Fifty years after the death of 13 demonstrators shot dead by British soldiers, the memory of the victims of “Bloody Sunday” is honored on Sunday in Northern Ireland bruised by the dark years of the “Troubles” and disappointed hopes of justice.
“It’s important for the rest of the world to see what they did to us that day,” Charlie Nash, 73, told AFP. His cousin William was killed on January 30, 1972, at the age of 19. “But will we ever see justice? Never”, he believes, “certainly not from Boris Johnson”.
In the morning and then in the afternoon, the relatives of the victims will walk in the streets of Derry – a name they prefer to the official name of Londonderry, synonymous with British domination – where the paratroopers of the first battalion had opened fire during the attack. a demonstration for the civil rights of Catholics.
At the time, Bloody Sunday had the effect of precipitating many young Republican Catholics into the arms of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), a paramilitary group opposed to any British presence on the island of Ireland. It was not until 1998 that the Good Friday peace agreement put an end to three decades of conflict that left 3,500 dead.
The British army had claimed that the paratroopers had responded to fire from IRA “terrorists”, a version confirmed by a hastily produced report in the following weeks.
Despite all the testimonies contradicting this version, it was not until 2010 that the innocence of the victims was officially recognized, some of whom were injured in the back or even on the ground, waving a white handkerchief.
– “Amnesty” –
At the end of the longest investigation – 12 years – and the most expensive that the United Kingdom has known (nearly 200 million pounds sterling, or 240 million euros at the current rate), the Prime Minister of the time, David Cameron, presents an official apology for these “unjustified and unjustifiable” acts.
“It’s been half a century, but it feels like yesterday for us in Derry,” said George Ryan, 61, a historian and guide in Northern Ireland’s second city. For him, the prospect of seeing servicemen tried on Bloody Sunday “seems more unlikely than ever, but it is more important than ever”.
No soldier was tried for Bloody Sunday. Murder charges against one of them were dropped over legal issues and the British government introduced a bill to end all charges related to the “Troubles”, widely denounced as a ” amnesty”.
Judge Mark Saville, who led the investigation published in 2010, said Saturday on the airwaves of the BBC “to understand” the feeling that “justice has not yet been done”.
At the entrance to the Bogside, the slogan “There is no British Justice” (“There is no British Justice”) took place for the occasion on the famous section of historic wall that once marked the entrance to the “Derry free”.
– Upheavals on the horizon –
A few days ago, a paratroopers’ flag hoisted in a loyalist district of the city created a stir, to the point of being mentioned during a session in Parliament in London.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Bloody Sunday a “tragic day in our history”, one of the “darkest” of the Troubles.
In recent months, the effects of Brexit have underlined the fragility of the balance of the 1998 peace agreement.
The decried customs provisions intended to avoid any land border with Ireland – but by establishing a de facto maritime one with Great Britain – are currently the subject of intense negotiations between London and Brussels.
They have also revived community tensions: during riots in Belfast in the spring, the “walls of peace” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods were set on fire.
The local elections in May promise to be decisive for the fragile political balance in place. With a decline of the Unionists, a Republican victory is deemed credible. Sinn Fein, formerly the political branch of the IRA, wants a referendum on the reunification of the island within five years.