DERRY — Justification for the killing of civilians on Bloody Sunday has resurfaced from a senior Unionist politician, sparking outrage from campaigners and the families of the dead.
John Taylor, the last member of the old Stormont government still in active politics, told the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that he believes “13 gunmen” were shot dead in Derry by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in January 1972. He compounded the anger by claiming nationalists spent the night after the killings “drinking and celebrating” because they saw the massacre as a propaganda coup.
There were audible gasps from the public gallery in the Guildhall in Derry as Taylor gave his evidence over two days last week. The brother of one victim described his remarks as “atrocious” and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan said the testimony was “mad.”
The idea that those killed on Bloody Sunday were rioters was adopted by the governments in London and Belfast at the time and is now almost universally discredited.
The innocence of the dead has been publicly acknowledge by lawyers representing most of the soldiers and the former British prime minister, John Major.
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Taylor, who is now known as Lord Kilclooney after entering the British House of Lords last year, was called to testify to the inquiry because he was a junior minister in the Belfast government at the time. His post put him on the Joint Security Committee, which formed policy at the time for dealing with rising tide of Troubles violence.
Asked by Michael Lavery, a lawyer for some of the victims’ families, if he believed 13 gunmen had been killed on the day, Taylor replied: “Oh yes, I believed that, yes and still do, incidentally.” He added that he believed nationalists saw the killings as a “propaganda coup.”
“Indeed on the night of the deaths, nationalists were drinking and celebrating because of what had happened because they knew it would bring about the downfall of the Stormont Parliament,” he said.
Later in his testimony, he appeared to step back from his initial remarks about the dead. Asked by another lawyer, John Coyle, if the 13 gunmen he referred to were the 13 recognized dead, he replied: “No. I would like to be careful about that.
“It is very hard after 30 years to remember what happened, but there are those who now say that innocent people were shot. If that is so, it is a tragedy, but at that time I believed that all of those who were shot, were shot because they were endangering the lives of the security forces and that they were armed.
“I certainly have a recollection that nail bombs were used against the army, and I think in fact one of those who was shot dead was found with one in his pocket.”
Several of the families issued a statement condemning Taylor’s “scandalous and hurtful” comments.
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother, Michael, was one of the victims, said Taylor’s remarks were “scandalous and utterly ridiculous.”
“He certainly was talking about my brother,” Kelly said. “There’s no doubt about that, he still believed they were gunmen.”
Michael Bradley, who was wounded by the British soldiers, said: “He thinks we were all terrorists. He was referring to everyone who died and it was very, very hurtful.”
Taylor also said he did not believe Ted Heath, the British Prime of the time, ordered the shootings. And he said the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which organized the march that the troops fired on, was “a cover for terrorists.” He claimed the association has reserved two places on its executive committee for the IRA.