I got an electronic copy of a booklet the other day from one of the cleverest people I know. It was from my old class-mate Eamonn McCann and the booklet was called Go On the Paras…! : Bloody Sunday and the contining search for justice. What’s that – you thought that had all been resolved by David Cameron’s apology? That it’s wrong when fourteen people are gunned down in broad daylight by the forces of the state and that saying ‘I’m sorry’ makes it all right?
McCann has been a tenacious and intelligent presence, shadowing the Saville Inquiry through its long years. His conclusion in this booklet pin-points the problem with the Inquiry’s findings: it attaches blame to the lower-downs. In other words, it attempts to sell Bloody Sunday as an unfortunate lapse, certainly untypical of the well-disciplined British army, and authorised by relatively low-level officers.
Not so. McCann points in particular to the ham-fisted and arrogant testimony of General Sir Mike Jackson, who is currently the top man in the British army. Back on Bloody Sunday he was an officer on the ground in the Derry Bogside, and as soon as the killing had stopped, Jackson was busy drawing up notes and diagrams to show that all of the victims had been gunmen and that all of the shots fired by the British paratroopers had been in self-defence. That’s the same paratroopers, McCann notes, who a few months earlier had slaughtered eleven people in Ballymurphy and who, in the Falklands, gloried in their custom of cutting off the ears of Argentinian soldiers they had killed and storing them in their pouch-belts.
Jackson’s notes and diagrams, of course, didn’t coincide with the facts. At the Saville Inquiry, he just couldn’t remember making them, couldn’t remember an awful lot of things, including how informed the government in London were in advance of the killing spree by the army.
This is at the core of the justice question for the bereaved of Bloody Sunday: will those who issued the original orders, those in government who sanctioned them – will they be held to account? Or will – as is so far the case – those as far down the food chain as possible be saddled with all of the guilt while the top military and political people walk away, hands cleaner than clean.