Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Equal Justice

For those of us who were children at the time, for those of us whose connections with Northern Ireland are tenuous to say the least, it is perhaps difficult to understand what the events today mean for the Northern Irish people.

Watching those listening to David Cameron's statement outside the Guildhall in Derry and their reactions, it seemed clear that his words may go a long way to healing 38 year old wounds. It was slightly odd to see a crowd of republican supporters clapping and cheering the words of a British prime minister. But it was welcome, nonetheless, as a sign of the immense strides which have been taken towards a lasting peace.

Cameron will get a lot of flak from certain quarters for issuing a full and frank apology for the events of Bloody Sunday, but it was something he had to do, and do it in our name. This afternoon it wasn't about him. It was about us as British citizens. And it was about us acknowledging that something went very wrong 38 years ago, and accepting that it was done in the name of the British state. The conclusions of the Saville Report are crystal clear to everyone, and I am glad that David Cameron made no attempt to soften or caveat the conclusions.

But let us not pretend that it was merely a small part of the British armed forces which were at fault that day. We now know that Martin McGuinness was carrying a sub machine gun. Presumably he was carrying it because he was prepared to use it.

Having now heard a full apology from the British Prime Minister for the events of Bloody Sunday, might it not be welcome for the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to follow suit and apologise for his own part in the events of that day and also for his part in the ensuing conflict? I suspect we might have some time to wait.

Just to finish, I think now though of the hundreds of families whose loved ones were brutally murdered by the IRA. Did they get their own Saville Inquiry? No. Did they get justice? Rarely. Many of those families will be in pieces today, as it is all brought back to them. Like the victims of Bloody Sunday and their families, these families too were innocent bystanders. Yet they can't get 'closure'. And in many cases, they see the murderers of their loved ones walking freely on the streets of Northern Ireland today.

So as well as thinking of the victims of Bloody Sunday and their families, I have many other people in my thoughts too. As I watch live coverage of the speeches of the families speaking outside the Guildhall in Derry, I hope that those gathered there listening can say the same.


Gavin Gamble said...

Simply, Very Wise Words.

Tim said...

"Just to finish, I think now though of the hundreds of families whose loved ones were brutally murdered by the IRA. Did they get their own Saville Inquiry? No."

Why would the British government hold a public inquiry into murders by a foreign terrorist group? Saville was investigating murder by/on behalf of the British state. Explain.

Gareth said...

"but it was something he had to do, and do it in our name"

Speak for yourself Iain, I wasn't even born.

Unknown said...

Just to finish, I think now though of the hundreds of families whose loved ones were brutally murdered by the IRA.

The British army and the British establishment of the time (through the means the Widgery Report) did their utmost to officially blacken the names of the victims of Bloody Sunday.

That is the point that the Bloody Sunday apologists and tu quoque merchants like yourself refuse to acknowledge.

Anonymous said...

The military will be disgusted by this - the troops in Afghanistan should just pack up their weapons and refuse to serve until they get some sort of criminal immunity like the US troops.

Calum said...

The point, Iain, is that the IRA was an independent group of people making their own choices, murderous as they were. When the state kills, it must be accountable for its actions, and that is the difference.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you didn't mean to but you come across as an apologist for the terrorist state, while condemning the private terrorist organisation. Cameron had the grace to acknowledge error without rationalising it by pointing out who were the 'real' villains. That you couldn't resist turning this episode into a vile, nationalist tit-for-tat shows you up for what you are - a cheap, and not very smart, politician.

Iain Dale said...

Yet another idiot who writes without reading what I wrote... Did you really not see this parapgraph?

"Cameron will get a lot of flak from certain quarters for issuing a full and frank apology for the events of Bloody Sunday, but it was something he had to do, and do it in our name. This afternoon it wasn't about him. It was about us as British citizens. And it was about us acknowledging that something went very wrong 38 years ago, and accepting that it was done in the name of the British state. The conclusions of the Saville Report are crystal clear to everyone, and I am glad that David Cameron made no attempt to soften or caveat the conclusions."

Perhaps you might like to apologise for that nasty little comment.

Curbishly said...

Perhaps you might like to apologise for that nasty little comment.

You're dealing with some small minded nasty little people, so I wouldn't hold your breath.

Thorpe said...

engliscdragon said...
"The military will be disgusted by this - the troops in Afghanistan should just pack up their weapons and refuse to serve until they get some sort of criminal immunity like the US troops."

I really don't think they will be disgusted. Having spent nearly 20 years in the Army, including several tours of NI, most people I know simply think the Paras got out of hand. And getting out of hand has consequences. Had it not been for the GFA I think it would have been reasonable to see further criminal investigations.

You propose criminal immunity for soldiers? I cannot agree. The Laws of Armed Conflict apply to soldiers on operations outside of the UK. Soldiers in Northern Ireland were officially acting under the code of Military Assistance to the Civil Power (MACP), which explicitly leaves them subject to UK criminal laws. The Yellow Card was quite explicit in declaring under what circumstances we could open fire, and indicated we could be prosecuted if those circumstances were not met.

The soldiers in Afghanistan will have been formally warned for Active Service under the AA 1955 (or NA 1955 for Marines). Any refusal to pick up weapons or serve counts as Mutiny, and being smart they're not going to do that.

Plato said...

Iain - great post.

Those who lost loved ones at the hands of the IRA/UVF etc will no doubt feel raw today.

Those commentors who are making cheap or stupid remarks like 'I wasn't born' just make your post more worthwhile.

I was 6 in 1972 and am very glad that the Saville report is now out and Cameron did exactly what he needed to do - take the findings on the chin, say sorry for what happened and to condemn those force members who lost their self control with such tragic results.

Unknown said...

very well said, Iain - a measured, thoughtful and eloquent piece.

Don't bite in reaction to the small-minded, Iain - you are right and they are dead wrong.

Little Englander (sour) said...

What a load of cock, will you be happy, when in thirty years time, a 40 somehting gets up and apologises to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan for the 1,000s of innocent civilians killed by British troops, I hated the fact that British troops were in N. Irland, I hate the fact that British troops are in Afghanistan.
I feel no need for the Prime Minister to apologise on my behalf.
While we're on the subject - I have never "owned" a slave nor did I have anything to do with the potato famine in Ireland.

Alister said...

The soldiers were under the strong impression that they would be underfire as they had been previously and as has been proven they were at the church during wire cutting.
McGuiness has been rumoured to have been seen with a Thompson sub-machine gun that day.
Thus you have the shock troops of the Army, the Paras (life expectancy in battle measured in hours) going into an area where they expect to come under fire from unknown assailants. They were psyched for a gun battle and as such it was a disaster waiting to happen

Danny Law said...

i support a unified ireland (though not the IRA's methods) - but i am personally very uncomfortable with a lot of this - the implication on the tv news seems to be that to be a victim of army violence is worse than IRA violence.

funny you are just as dead at the end.

im sure there are many victims of IRA atrocities who feel the same way about lost loved ones. but thats ok - tv news not interested in them.

and as for cameron apologising - how can you apologise for something you had no control of.

can we look forward to the IRA apologising too - doubt it

Libertarian said...


For the simple reason that the murderers weren't foreign nationals or organisations which is why their leaders are now members of both the UK parliament and the NI assembly.

norfolkandchance said...

The agents of the state murdered civilians and this was then covered up by a compliant judge accepting mass perjury. It would beggar belief if those responsible and still alive are not brought to justice

cassandra said...

Oh dear!

The appeasers are out in force today I see and some excusing the republican killers and psychotic killers and torturers.
The republican armed struggle movement was beaten by loyal and brave security forces who despite government stupidty beat a formidable terrorist force into defeat and forced it into a peace dialogue.
The armed forces won the battle and the political classes many of whom have never served their nation utterly squandered the victory won for them and us.
The victory was turned into defeat and now we suffer the consequences of that political defeat.
The armed sruggle turned into a political struggle and it is using the 'bloody sunday' appeasement to hammer home its victory over the hated British and its loyalist allies.
The appeasement inquiry has not healed old wounds it has reopened them, it has not cooled republican fervour it has energised it and we will see the results soon. The political struggle for unification starts now with an energised republican side crowing victory and sticking the boot in a weak cringing government.
The soldiers who died and those who ended up crippled in mind and body sacrificed themselves for the union they won a victory despite the political oafs/cowards/cretins betraying them at every turn and now those who gave so much and won a hard long fight against terror see their work pissed up the wall.
This political appeasement is not the end of the troubles it is the beginning of the next phase of the struggle for unification and destruction of the loyalist north.
Throughout history the lessons of appeasing terror have been shown and yet still we do not learn from them, today is the start of the next terrorist war.

All Seeing Eye said...

...a full and frank apology...and do it in our name.

Not in my name. Never.

Cynic said...

What has Saville uncovred?

Nothing more that Major admitted while he was PM...that the victims of the shootings were innocent and were killed unlawfully.

I totally utterly agree that what happened was wrong and indefensible.

But what grates with people is the huge resources piled into this inquiry while other murder investigations were starved of resources. Indeed, even as Saville was starting PIRA were still murdering people in NI using various aliases and the British Government was turning a blind eye to it. As last weeks events in Laois showed they haven't actually decommissioned all their guns and are up to their necks in international organised crime. That is what rankles.

Its also great to see that those seekers after Truth in SF sometimes refused to answer questions and in the assessment of the Inquiry lied about having guns that day. Indeed there is evidence that they did fire on troops but after the troops had opened fire first

DeeDee99 said...

I am sure Lord Saville's report is welcomed by the relatives of those killed and no doubt many other NI Catholics. But I fail to see why this had to cost £200 million; I doubt South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committees cost anywhere near as much and they had an awful lot more to investigate.

I second the comments about Martin McGuinness and the other IRA members who were out on the streets that day, armed and prepared to use their guns .... how refreshing it would be if they admitted their presence and their intentions and apologised for the part they played in that day's tragic events. They won't of course; they are simply not big enough.

Jabba the Cat said...

I also see nothing to apologise for.

Unlike those who weren't born at the time but seem full of insight, I do recall those times and events clearly. In particular I recall that there was a feeling of quite satisfaction felt in many parts of the mainland population that the Paddy's had messed with the wrong people in the Parachute Regiment whilst engaging in an illegal demonstration and got what was coming to them.

Those where days of civil unrest in a corner of the UK that required the army on the streets to maintain order. Under such circumstances shit sometimes happens and people die.

Kateyo said...

Actually Martin McGuinness denied tonight that he had a gun and Saville did include the word probably, which means there is no proof. Otherwise an excellent post Iain.

Don said...

An excellent article, but the IRA never apologise for anything, so don't hold your breath.
I am convinced that if the IRA had not waged their campaign of murder and terror, the Nationalist cause would have achieved much more by peaceful politics.
The IRA will attempt to use the Saville findings as a justification for their murder of innocent women and children, and the BBC can be relied upon to give them support.

SteveL said...

There was never any doubt that the schoolkids at Enniskillen, or that the two men killed in the Canary Wharf bomb of 1996 were innocent. What today's report does for the families of the people killed by their own government in 1972 have been told that the soldiers were wrong. Saying "what about the PIRA victims?" misses the point; the had already PIRA won from Bloody Sunday in the 1970s.

This report was more about how the catholic groups in NI felt they were persecuted by the state.

The fact that Cameron said sorry may make a difference. If Tony "middle east peace envoy" Blair had said it, you'd know it was meaningless. But here someone who actually may have meant it said sorry. This is progress.

As someone whose family member in the Parachute regiment got killed in action last year, I don't see this as blackening the name. There are more pressing issues. Deploying 1Para in a police role was the mistake: they did what they are trained to do, deploy, fight, get out alive. Whoever made the deployment decision needs blame, not the men on the ground.

Incidentally, for anyone asking about apologies from the paramilitaries, I believe the PUP did say sorry for the actions of the UVF. It would be good if the PIRA management said sorry too, but we can wait another 30 years for that. This was the government's turn.

sedgely said...

Iain, I really wish you would stop saying everyone who was murdered were Republicans.

Many of the people who died or were on the march were mainstream nationalists on a peaceful civil rights march.

The Saville report makes it clear that there was no provocation from the marchers.

As a publisher and writer you should be more careful with your language.

Andy said...

You started well but soon lapsed into rubbish.

Of course families and victims of the IRA deserve as much consideration as anybody affected by Bloody Sunday.

But a key difference is that a lot of IRA thugs were caught and imprisoned. Everybody knows that the IRA were a bunch of lawless gangsters in the main.

But nobody from the British establishment has been held to account for the crimes they committed on Bloody Sunday, although that may soon change. And of course there were the shoot to kill policies and collusion with 'loyalist' terrorist groups which the British government engaged in. All covered up by the same state apparatus.

It is fair enough to point out that the IRA killed many people, as did a number of other groups. But we are all entitled to expect a state apparatus to better standards than them and so, if we drop to the same standards the criticism is going to be worse.

As for expecting Martin McGuinness to be held to account for carrying a machine gun you might just as well demand that any member of the Heath government who had any say in the control of NI or the army at the time should have to. Or for that matter Mrs T who was in charge when the shoot to kill policy made its most visible manifestation in Gibralter. It will have to stop somewhere and McGuinness has renounced violence and is a democratically elected politician.curnika

Tim said...


The government only holds public inquiries into things done by the state! The IRA are not the British state!

Chris Mills said...

Of course David Cameron was right to apologise.

Innocent British Citizens were killed by the British Army in part of the UK.

It has been shown that the Army shouldn't have opened fire at all.

Does it matter if you were born at the time? Of course not (I wasn't by the way). The fact of the matter is it happened. People's lives were torn apart.

Families and friends lost their loved ones, by the acts of people representing Britain.

Yes it's a shame that those murdered by members of terrorist organisations (both Republican and Unionist) won't be brought to justice, but it's important that the government are accountable for the actions of the armed forces, especially on home soil.

Unknown said...

Have you seen this Iain? Bits of it seem familiar. Keep up the work.

"Once more unto the quagmire I go. For those of us who were children at the time, for those of us whose connections with Northern Ireland are tenuous to say the least, it is perhaps difficult to understand what the events today mean for the Northern Irish people. But I will still have a great big fat attempt at it (again) even if it means over-simplifying an incredibly complex and historically rooted issue as "2 wrongs don't make a right".

Cameron deserves credit for reading something out in Parliament rather than covering it up. It's a funny world where I can seek to make a virtue out of someone merely doing his job and reporting the findings of an independent body, independently. I blame Lord Hutton.

And while it would be helpful to recognise that today's report marks an important admission finally that the British Army were at fault, which should be taken on its own terms, I will give the impression that justice for some is not worthwhile unless everyone gets it. If I took that argument to its logical conclusion (don't worry, I never have before so won't start now) you wouldn't try any criminal because there will always be those who get away with things and convicting those who get caught wouldn't be fair on the victims of those who don't.

I'll also ignore acknowledgement of the fact that it is such a crucial episode in the Troubles because (setting aside centuries of grievances about how the British had treated the Irish previously, eh Mr Cromwell et al?) if it had never happened or hadn't been covered up years ago there probably wouldn't have been all of the other terrible atrocities I list.

I think I should leave it there as I definitely don't want to end up spouting chunks of populist generalising to keep regular readers happy, with just a hint of controversy to encourage some healthy debate. And I certainly wouldn't want to conclude by talking about my "thoughts" being with people I couldn't care less about because like most British people I can't and don't really understand this whole issue, simply to try and display my human and caring side."

CN said...

I have to take issue with this Iain:

It was slightly odd to see a crowd of republican supporters clapping and cheering the words of a British prime minister

It's to this city's credit despite the events of Bloody Sunday that this city has not returned an MP that has not taken up his seat in parliament in over 4 decades i.e not republican but nationalist they are not the same. Yes there were republicans in the crowd today but there were also citizens of a city that tried to exercise their democratic right to protest and government forces shot dead innocent people in response - fact now.

Yes there were other killings and relatives clearly require support and I hope that the HET continues to get budget from the government and support from the PSNI who can deliver the answers that they seek. I understand the HET continue to make significant progress.

I was a child at the time and have grown up under the shadow of Bloody Sunday it was the ultimate recruiting poster that prolonged conflict. Today is genuine relief, it's time to move on.

I won't adddress all your points I know you don't like this quagmire but I'd urge caution. Saville said today McGuinness "probably" was armed. Soldier F and P come under greater scrutiny and criticism. If you push 1 can't you ignore the other.

My view is this should stop now and the DPP in NI should rule it is not in the public interest to pursue.

Gordon the Fence Post Tortoise said...

Iain -
sidestepping the subject issues and looking at the process so to speak, one has to question the tab on this one.

A trivial, very quick bit of numbercrunching - £191m report, 5000 pages (reputed), 1000 words a page (guess).

Your post on this matter (471 words) equates to £18,000 in Saville terms......

I know this isn't a matter of bean counting - but still, that looks pretty awful from where I'm sat.

Libertarian said...


If you are going to be pompous it would help if you got your facts right.

There was no peaceful march, that's the whole point. It was an illegal march. It was banned and the people on it where warned that it was illegal yet they still chose to go on it.

It was very not a peaceful demonstration it was a "show of strength" for PIRA from the "nationalist community".

David Lindsay said...

Any trial would be billed and sold as the trial of eight hundred years, with the guilty verdicts read out as if they were the proclamation of the (potently never realised) 32-County Republic of 1916.

Only a Conservative Government could or would ever withdraw from Northern Ireland. Since the War, only the Heath Government has come close to doing so, in very marked contrast both to its Labour predecessor and to its Labour successor. And very close it came. Very close indeed. Margaret Thatcher, a Cabinet Minister throughout the Heath years, objected exactly as much as she did to the European Communities Act, to the abolition of the historic counties, and to all the rest of it. In other words, not at all. But then, her time was rather taken up with closing so many grammar schools that there were not enough left at the end for her record ever to be equalled. The tone of her own Premiership was set.

Cameron's problem is that no one in the Republic as presently constituted wants Northern Ireland, and all three major parties in the Republic are creatures, literal creations, of British intelligence, which has always been running the place by proxy since it was created, only ever as part of the deal to bring America into the First World War. Everyone knows this. If people do not like it, then there are other electoral options, one in particular. Those options are never taken by any number of voters worth mentioning. But then, where that one in particular is concerned, it has always been said that each of its branches had three members, of whom one was a British spy, another was a Police informer, and the third went to jail.

So that rules out the forty-year Conservative pursuit of a United Ireland outside the Commonwealth but inside both NATO and the EU, by happy coincidence the cause in which successive American Administrations have funded, armed and directed Irish Republican terrorism, up to and including the murders of Airey Neave MP and Robert Bradford MP. And up to and including the murder of the parliamentarian whom Attlee had made Viceroy of India, and to whom Wilson had wanted to give the new position of Secretary of State for Defence in 1964, but who had felt bound to decline because of his closeness to the Royal Family. So much for either Wilson the KGB agent (they would have been wasting their money) or Mountbatten the plotter to stage a coup against him. Still, these fantasies allow those who peddle them to imagine that they are in the know, so they are useful in their way, I suppose.

Unknown said...

Your post was fair in the circumstances Iain. The best comment I have read was by Thorpe. I was in the Army, not in NI, at that time. I was in the Medics - when we still had a proper medical Service - and a guy I joined up at the same time as was murdered by the IRA. He was in the RADC - that's Dental Corps - and was a dental technician. What threat did he pose to Adams & Co? His "crime" was to be in the Army.
Are Adams and McGuinness now going to apologise for Warrenpoint?
I do not agree with a lot of the things that have gone on since Bliar got involved in NI. That includes this inquiry which to my mond should not have been finding people - on either side - guilty or innocent. It was not a court of law.
I read the other day that Scotland needs immigrants. Why not take back all the folk forcibly decamped to NI? That will only leave the Catholics and we can give it to the Republic with a clear conscience.

M. Hristov said...

Well done David Cameron. An awful day but you understood what was needed. Lets not tar the whole Army with the fatal actions of Support Company of the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment ( The Parachute Regiment Army nickname being "The Psychos").

Thank you very much Lord Saville. By spinning this out for 12 years you effectively stopped New Labour using your report to destroy the high standards and traditions of the Army and the other services. The services being the last place where people are required to be exceptional and where people are not dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. If Saville had reported earlier then I am sure the services would have been put under some sort of ridiculous professional standards board made up of well paid New Labour Apparatchiks whose understanding of the services would be zero but whose appetite for interference would have been huge. Standards would have collapsed once the ignorant diktats started flowing.

If there are to be any repercussions for the soldiers of the Support Company then I suggest that such repercussions are limited to a "Truth and Reconciliation Committee" who should amnesty the truthful.

As to those soldiers named and blamed in the report, you were not in the Waffen SS or NKVD. You were in the British Army and as such, you must know that your standards fell disastrously below what was required. You’ve let us all down but most of all you have let down your Commander -in-Chief, HM The Queen and you must know that that is the ultimate disgrace.

Cynic said...

I think we need to realise that under the early release provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, if anyone ever were convicted, they would get straight back out of gaol again. Indeed, we now know that Labour granted secret Royal pardons to a number of members of PIRA wanted for murder and other offences to obviate them having to go through this process.

Not a sheep said...

This morning I blogged a piece on the Saville Inquiry and included a list of all the people murdered by the IRA before Bloody Sunday. I think this puts the lie to the BBC's claims yesterday that pre-Bloody Sunday the IRA was weak and played second fiddle to the 'civil rights movement' and insinuating that Bloody Sunday was the cause of IRA terrorism.

Jabba the Cat said...

Many of the commenter's here would do well to read AFN Clarke's book Contact to get a perspective on dealing with both sides of the community in NI during those times.

Unknown said...

I am astounded by the level of ingnorance still out there incited by your your journalism Iain. This is not just about the fact that innocent people were murdered, it was also about the LIES and cover up by the British Government that these murdered victims were known IRA Terrorists. May their families now rest with the memory of their loved ones names cleared.

Iain Dale said...

Clearly you are another one who didnt bother reading what I wrote, but instead read what you imagined I would write.

Kipper said...

Long time lurker so my 2p

Agreed with the sentiments you were expressing Iain and I think Cameron did the right thing. We have to be accountable as a society for our actions - albeit very late in the day.

More worrying is what appears to be an ongoing lack of quality amongst the senior ranks of the Army and the recent series of articles in the Times has done nothing to assure me that this couldn't happen again.

We have to be better than the terrorists - not the same or we become them.

Swiss Bob said...

'Derry'? Where's that then, or do you say Paree and Roma. Clot.

Cynic said...

Interesting to see some foreign assessments of the post election and post Bloody Sunday political landscape:

" Balls was edgy and his attempts at self-deprecation have gone too far. Soon some people will start to feel sorry for him; but there are very few votes in pity. Burnham (who I thought would really shine in this race) has struggled to make an impact so far. Ed Miliband is the new darling of the left, and duly performed last night as though he was back running for office in student politics. His policy program and rhetoric will delight David Cameron: it is his dream to stand at the next election against a Labour party heading leftwards. David Miliband looks, in theory, like the grown-up but it is obvious that he is a man stuck on planet politics trying to do an impression of a leader who understands people (”I’m real”). Then there’s Diane Abbot, waving her hands around like a cut-price magician and burbling on about “the kids” that she represents.

It is always fascinating to note the impact that entering office has on front-line politicians. Some grow almost instantly, and before you know it they are considerably bigger figures. Owen Paterson was a bright but not particularly starry opposition minister. As the new Northern Ireland Secretary has proven, in his well-judged handling of the release of the Saville report, he is comfortable in the cabinet and a star in the making.

But the process can also work in reverse. Take away the red boxes, the civil service run private offices, the driver, the large budget, the retinue of aides and some politicians just shrink. Until quite recently four of the contenders here were cabinet ministers; all that now seems a long way away.

Still, one of them must face David Cameron at some point. The prime minister is a lucky politician - ducking and diving through four-and-a-half years of scrapes as opposition leader and then becoming PM despite failing to win the election. Right now he must be thinking he’s lucked out again. It is hard to see any of the five Labour leadership contenders giving him much to worry about."