By Anne Cadwallader
DERRY — Nobel Peace Prize winner and former SDLP leader John Hume testified Monday that the Bloody Sunday Tribunal must discover who ordered the British Army into Derry’s Bogside 30 years ago when 14 men were shot dead during a civil rights march.
Speaking at Derry’s Guildhall before the Saville Inqury into the Jan. 30, 1972 shooting, Hume said only this line of inquiry would produce “real results,” indicating he believed the orders came from the then Unionist-dominated Stormont regime, not from the British government in London.
That regime, he said, was the same one that was denying Catholic civil rights, equal voting rights, equality of housing and employment.
The Foyle MP said he had decided to turn down an invitation to speak at the rally on Bloody Sunday after an experience exactly a week earlier when he had witnessed what he called “aggressive” and “rough” behavior by British troops on a beach at Magilligan.
Civil rights marchers had intended marching to the Magilligan internment camp so that internees could hear speeches, he said. The beach, he said, was also considered a safe place for a march because there was nothing for people to throw, if provoked.
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Hume said he was “astonished ” to find British troops waiting for the marchers on the beach and a barricade extending across the sand into the waves.
He said he was hit by a CS canister after British Paratroopers opened fire on protesters with gas and rubber bullets. He also said that when he had asked an officer why he was there, the officer replied, “Because your government ordered us here.”
“If they were firing rubber bullets and gas on a beach, where there could not be any form of violence, I thought, ‘Good Lord, what would they do on the streets of a town and what trouble would they cause?’ ” Hume recalled.
While he did not attend the Bloody Sunday march, Hume was at home in case of trouble on the day and heard the first shots. People then began flocking to his door and he spent the evening trying to speak with families of the dead and injured, which he described as a “shattering” experience.
“That day was dreadful, the worst day in the history of this city in my lifetime,” he told the Tribunal. “The real question is, when that officer said to me that it was the Northern Ireland government that had sent him, who sent the British Army on to our streets and what order were given to them?
“That is the question I believe this inquiry should find out immediately and I believe, if they do, they will get the real results of this inquiry.”
Hume also dismissed suggestions — being pursued by lawyers representing the British soldiers — that there may have been IRA gunmen shot that day and subsequently spirited across the border and buried in secret in County Donegal.
Hume dismissed the argument. “If any of those people killed had been members of the IRA, there would have been an IRA funeral,” he said. “Because no matter what has happened with members of the IRA, when they die there is always an IRA funeral, which is a funeral with the Irish flag and all the rest of it.”
Hume finished giving evidence, after just over an hour in the witness box, to a round of applause from relatives of the dead and injured in the public gallery.
Meanwhile, in the face of concerted press and Conservative Party criticism, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, has defended the _52 million cost of the inquiry into Bloody Sunday, saying it is important in the context of the peace process.