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Editorial: Truth-telling time

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

This week saw the opening in Derry of the preliminary hearings of the new inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday. It comes about as a result of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision in January to take a fresh look at the massacre of 14 innocent civilians in Derry that stunned ireland and the world more than 26 years ago.

The deaths of those 14 demonstrators continues to haunt the relationship between the two nations, even as they press ahead with the historic political settlement that, it is hoped, will bring peace to Northern Ireland.

The new inquiry’s remit is to established what exactly took place on Jan. 30 1972. Under the chairmanship of Lord Saville, the three-judge panel includes Sir Edward Somers, formerly an appeal court judge in New Zealand, and Mr. Justice William Hoyt, the former chief justice of the province of New Brunswick, Canada. The judges will have to assess the statements of as many as 600 witnesses when the inquiry moves into full hearings, which are due to commence next spring, if all goes according to schedule.

They have available to them much new material as well as material which the original inquiry, chaired by Lord Widgery in 1972, ignored or discounted. Widgery’s efforts added insult to injury, as he bent over backward to exonerate the soldiers and their commanders who were involved in the killings. As a result his name became a synonym for “whitewash.”

Lord Saville carries the tremendous burden of undoing the damage that Widgery’s inquiry did to the whole concept of British fairness and justice. If Northern Irish Nationalists are ever to believe that they will be treated fairly and equally by British law, the Lord Saville panel must demonstrate the courage to pursue all the facts of the Bloody Sunday shootings, regardless of how unpalatable many of them may be to Britain’s image of itself as the upholder of “fair play.” Among the most contentious issues are those surrounding the crucial matter of who was responsible for ordering the operation in the first place. What is known is that the police chief in Derry at the time told the army commander that he did not think the paras would be necessary that day, since no trouble was expected at the demonstration. Yet someone much higher up overruled his judgment and sent the soldiers in with the disastrous consequences that have been with us ever since. Who was that authority? Clearly, he was determined on seeing some kind of result on Jan. 30 that he thought only the paras could deliver.

This and other questions still remain unanswered. Bloody Sunday is a ghost that continues to haunt the banquet. It has to be exorcised. The only effective way of doing that is by telling the truth.

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