By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The families of the 14 civilians shot dead on Bloody Sunday in Derry 26 years ago say they remain “skeptical” about the potential for discovering the truth about the 1972 shootings as a British inquiry into the event opened in Derry on Monday.
The new inquiry is the result of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision last January to take a fresh look at the massacre that stunned Ireland almost three decades ago.
The new inquiry’s mandate 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 appeals court judge in New Zealand, and Mr. Justice William Hoyt, the former chief justice of the province of New Brunswick, Canada. The inquiry is expected to move into full hearings next spring.
The inquiry has available much new material as well as material that the original inquiry, chaired by Lord Widgery in 1972, ignored or discounted. Many observers felt Widgery’s efforts added insult to injury because he appeared to do his best to exonerate the soldiers and their commanders who were involved in the killings.
Perhaps the most crucial issue to be determined is who exactly ordered the operation in the first place.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
A long-standing dispute over the resources to be allocated to the victims’ families, to enable them secure independent forensic, pathology and ballistic expert witnesses, hung over the opening day of the inquiry.
The families and their legal representatives say they remain concerned about their ability to put their case to the tribunal while their resources remain limited. They are withholding their full support from the inquiry until the row has been cleared up, and until they have what they say is satisfactory legal representation. At the moment, one senior and two junior lawyers are assigned to the case.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that only 10 former British soldiers have requested legal representation at the inquiry, compared to the 40 who appeared before the now-discredited Widgery Tribunal into the deaths.
Lord Saville of Newdigate said the inquiry was being delayed because lawyers for some of the victims’ families are withholding some material.
Speaking after the first day of the public inquiry’s initial proceedings to establish ground rules, Michael McKinny, whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday, said the families remain unconvinced the inquiry would uncover the truth.
“Until Lord Saville tells us what he is going to give us and what he isn’t going to give us, we remain to be persuaded,” he said. “The mood may change within the families, but at the moment they are still skeptical.”
The chairman of the British Labor Party’s committee on Northern Ireland, Glasgow MP Norman Godman, has urged the British prime minister, Tony Blair, to allocate the families enough money to fully present their case.
The families, many with low incomes, should be treated with respect and accorded the resources they need, he said, instead of treating them with “bureaucratic miserliness.”