Monday, May 16

What is “Bloody Sunday”, the 50th anniversary of which is commemorated in Northern Ireland?

Renamed “The Troubles” in the United Kingdom, the Northern Irish conflict lasted 30 years, from 1968 to 1998. Opposing Catholics in favor of the unification of Ireland to Protestants loyal to the British crown, this war had several episodes of violence. One of them was nevertheless crucial: the Bloody Sunday (“Bloody Sunday”, editor’s note), which occurred just 50 years ago.

On January 30, 1972, British paratroopers opened fire on a demonstration by Catholic activists. Thirteen people were killed that Sunday, and a 14th died the following days. Six of them were 17 years old and all were shot, most of them in the back. 16 injured were also recorded, including several seriously injured.

On Twitter, the current British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, commemorated the anniversary of “a tragic day in our history”. Bloody Sunday “was one of the darkest days of The Troubles. We must learn from the past, reconcile and build a future of peace for the people of Northern Ireland,” he wrote.

At the time, this province was politically, economically and socially dominated by Protestants, since the partition of the island in 1921. This Sunday, January 30, 1972, the demonstration at the call of associations for the defense of civil rights Catholics had been banned by the government.

But the protesters were still mobilized by the thousands, investing the streets of Bogside, the Catholic ghetto of Derry (called LondonDerry by the Protestant community). There where, more than two years before, a revolt had been born against the discrimination practiced by the Protestant “government of apartheid”. The resulting inter-communal riots had marked the beginning of the “Troubles”, and the deployment of the British army in Northern Ireland, from 1969.

A “collective massacre”

That Sunday, the demonstrators denounced in particular the internment without trial of activists from the Catholic community. Bernadette Devlin, a young Catholic Member of Parliament in Westminster, led the procession. It was the biggest protest ever in Derry. British paratroopers from the 1st Battalion had been brought in as reinforcements from Belfast, and posted on the edge of the Bogside.

When the parade ended, around 4:30 p.m., the young Catholics began to disperse and some headed for the outpost of the soldiers. The situation degenerated: the paratroopers received the order to invest the Bogside. They opened fire, the demonstrators fled. 13 died that day.

For the people of Bogside, there was no doubt at the time that the soldiers fired indiscriminately at anything that moved. Bernadette Devlin denounced “a massacre by the British military” and Ivan Cooper, a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament, said paratroopers shot at him as he waved a white handkerchief, trying to rescue a man. injured.

The military, meanwhile, said armed protesters, identified as Irish Republican Army (IRA) “terrorists”, opened fire first. This clandestine organization, opposed to any British presence on the island of Ireland, had defended itself against causing the “massacre”. Bloody Sunday has had the effect of plunging many young Republican Catholics into the ranks of the IRA.

This version of the story, incriminating the paramilitary group, was later echoed in the hotly contested conclusions of a hastily conducted investigation in 1972. Years later, in 2010, a report came out to contradict the statements of the army. After 12 years of investigation, this document established that the British paratroopers had not only fired first but that the victims were neither armed nor IRA bombers.

These revelations had led the British Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, to condemn the “unjustifiable” action of the army, while apologizing to the families of the deceased. However, 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’, denounced on all sides as a ‘ amnesty”.

Many of the current inhabitants of the Bogside feel that justice has still not been served. On this 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”, the slogan “There is no British justice” (“There is no British justice”) has been painted on a section of historic wall, the one that once marked the entrance to the “Free Derry”, the Catholic district of the Bogside.

A first march was organized this morning in memory of the victims, retracing the route of the demonstration of January 30, 1972. It ended with the laying of a wreath on the war memorial, on behalf of Micheal Martin, the First Irish minister. A second march must take place in the afternoon in the streets of Derry, to arrive at the place of the massacre at the time when the paratroopers of the first battalion opened fire.

Despite the peace agreement signed in 1998, the balance remains fragile in Northern Ireland. The customs provisions recently imposed by Brexit have revived certain tensions, particularly within the community. Last spring, the “walls of peace” separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods were set on fire during riots. The local elections, scheduled for May, promise to be decisive: they could be marked by a Republican victory.

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