Bloody Sunday – 30 Years After The Massacre

JOHN DOLAN reviews the recent TV dramatisation.

FILMED IN documentary style, Bloody Sunday, ITV’s excellent drama of the events of 30 January 1972 in Derry was a powerful and moving portrayal of that tragic day.

The First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment are clearly shown as soldiers indiscriminately murdering unarmed Civil Rights demonstrators, on orders from the very tops of the British state.

The film focused on a relatively minor character, “moderate” civil rights supporter and then Derry MP Ivan Cooper. But it also showed the pitfalls for young Derry Catholics. One victim of Bloody Sunday highlighted in this drama got caught up in the practice of stoning the hated British Army, and in consequence spent time in prison.

In a humiliation for the British Army, Bogside and Creggan in Derry had been no-go areas to the British state for six months prior to Bloody Sunday.

Two policemen were shot on the Thursday beforehand and with the Paras coming to the end of their tour in Northern Ireland, the conditions were laid for carrying out the British government’s and Army tops’ wish to “end this Londonderry rebellion”.

The Paras are shown to have the attitude: “Where were the civil rights for the dead policemen?” and “They’re are all the enemy” (i.e. all the demonstrators).

Officially, army strategy was to separate a group of regular stone-throwing youths, the ‘Derry Young Hooligans’, from the civil rights march to be arrested (‘scooped up’) by the Paras. The Paras’ presence for this ostensibly routine task showed clearly what the British state intended.

While the British Army geared up for an offensive, civil rights marchers were determined to have a peaceful protest. On the morning of the march, the demonstrators tried to avoid confrontation by changing the route of the officially illegal march to avoid British Army barriers.

The IRA, both Provisional and Official wings, had been told to keep their arms away from the march. The IRA had a presence in the area, but not on the march itself.

Soon after the march set off, the Paras were shown pointing their rifles at the demonstrators from a vantage point, in a clearly provocative fashion.

As the march turned a corner for the new route, avoiding the original left turn which led to the British Army barrier, a group of mainly young demonstrators began stoning the British. First the water cannon was turned on these demonstrators, followed by rubber bullets and then CS gas.

Shot in the back

THE PARAS were shown champing at the bit, itching for the order for action. The officer who gave them this order was portrayed as someone who genuinely thought they intended to ‘scoop up’ the ‘Young Hooligans’. The more senior army figures knew what was going to happen but weren’t on record as giving the order.

The section of the drama with the shootings is chaotic, brutal, moving and shocking. It is unclear who fired the first shot, but after it hit a demonstrator, the protesters became more incensed. Some of the IRA figures begin to move into nearby flats. Another IRA gunman emerges brandishing a pistol, but marchers stop him.

What happened has often been described, in words and photos. Unarmed demonstrators were shot in the back; shot while waving a white handkerchief when going to someone else’s assistance; shot while trying to escape the gunfire by crawling away on their stomachs.

These murders were portrayed accurately, with the panic, confusion, fear and anger of the demonstrators captured in a way that text and photographs can’t match. 13 demonstrators were murdered on Bloody Sunday, with one of the 14 wounded dying later.

The British Army and the Paras immediately started a propaganda war. They initially claimed they had had “ten or twenty” rounds fired at them before returning three rounds of fire. A dead demonstrator had a nail bomb planted on him.

Afterwards the army claimed “law and order has increased tonight.” In fact young Derry Catholics, who before Bloody Sunday would not have got involved with the IRA, were literally queuing to join them afterwards due to the Paras’ brutal role.

Ivan Cooper later told a press conference: “The IRA had been given its biggest victory. You will reap the whirlwind.” In fact the ordinary people of Northern Ireland suffered over 3,000 deaths in ‘the Troubles’.

Bloody Sunday was the culmination of vicious repressive measures used against the Catholic population of Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. This film showed once more that they made the situation many times worse.

An Eyewitness Reports

AT THE time of Bloody Sunday, our predecessor Militant carried reports on its front page. Under the headline “Derry – this was murder”, we commented that the day “would go down in history as the North of Ireland’s Bloody Sunday.

“It is to be compared to the Croke Park (Dublin) massacre of 1920 when British “black and tans” shot down 12 civilians”.

In the same issue Brian Doherty gave this eye-witness report:

“I was in Chamberlain Street when the paras attacked, The crowd retreated in panic and I ran into the courtyard at the back of Rossville flats but I stopped when I saw that we had been outflanked by soldiers who had taken up positions at the corner of the flats.

“Most people dashed across the open courtyard and I turned left and followed several others behind a wire fence. I heard bangs which I thought were rubber bullet guns but then I saw an unarmed man fall in the middle of the yard and lie motionless.

“Suddenly I realised it was gunfire. I dived behind a wall. I looked up and saw a para who fired his rifle and hit a youth who was only 12 feet away from me. Someone shouted out: “Look he’s been wounded” and we rushed over and carried him over to the other side of the block and he was taken to hospital.

“The man was unarmed and he was shot down by a British soldier as he ran for cover.”

Why Socialists Fight For Class Unity

FROM THE time when Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement rose to prominence in 1968, the Socialist Party’s predecessor Militant argued that it should appeal on a socialist working-class programme to both Catholics and Protestants.

Roger Shrives

In 1969, while they were defending homes in Bogside and Creggan against police and loyalist sectarian attacks, workers around Derry Labour Party and Young Socialists produced a daily Barricades Bulletin. This stressed that “working-class unity …will provide the only lasting solution to the rule of sectarian terror and the terrorist rule of rent, interest and profit”.

Even after the barricades came down, Bogside and Creggan remained a ‘no-go’ area for the RUC and the army. The Tories, worried about this ‘bad example’ to the huge and at that stage militant trade union movement in Britain, were determined to crush “Free Derry”.

In 1971 the Northern Ireland government used its infamous Special Powers Act to intern, without trial and indefinitely, any person suspected of “acting or being about to act in a manner prejudicial to the preservation of peace”.

By the end of 1971 almost 1,000 had been interned, mainly Catholics but only a minority IRA members. Detainees were hooded, subjected to sleep deprivation etc.

Militant reported that soldiers searching for suspects would enter houses, “tear up floorboards, rip down ceilings and wallpaper and wreck furniture.

“This is done in 98 out of a street of say 100 houses. In two houses, the troops will take care to avoid any damage and these householders will be asked to sign dockets to say that no damage has been done.”

The Catholic areas fought back against these indignities with rent and rate strikes but the leaders of the working class remained silent. There had been strikes when internment was introduced but union leaders refused to make them official.

Bloody Sunday’s tragic events, the British state’s bitter revenge, had a huge impact across Ireland with a general strike in the South. In well-organised workplaces in Derry, Protestant as well as Catholic workers struck but again there was no lead from the union tops.

As Militant said after Bloody Sunday “Outraged Catholic youths have flooded towards the IRA …the rage of the Catholic population is entirely understandable. They feel like striking back, with arms, against those responsible…

“But to propose a new campaign of terror and reprisals is no way to avenge the dead and will only reproduce the bloody events in Derry on a larger scale later …and can only provide an excuse for further repression.”

Bloody Sunday deepened the crisis for British imperialism which found that its methods had acted as a recruiting sergeant for the Provisional IRA. But the IRA’s methods of individual terror, we warned, were a cul-de-sac for Catholic youth.

A small armed force, claiming to act for a community who were consigned to the role of mere onlookers, could not hope to overthrow the state or defeat the British Army. Also in Northern Ireland IRA tactics and politics alienated the Protestant working class.

The Socialist Party and its forerunners have consistently campaigned for working-class unity and the struggle for socialism as the only answer to the daily problems of life in Northern Ireland.

Socialists now often have to fight to overcome the sectarian division that is part of everyday life for working-class people. We still call clearly for class unity politics including fighting to build a new political party based on, and representing, the working class.

The peace process unfortunately encourages power-sharing between sectarian politicians, who in the words of a Socialist Party leaflet at the 18 January anti-sectarian demo, “have a vested interest in keeping workers divided – otherwise they would not get people to vote for them.”

Workers still need to build a real socialist alternative to capitalism and sectarian politics.