Cowen meets victims' families

 

Taoiseach Brian Cowen met relatives of some of the Bloody Sunday victims in Government Buildings today, a day after the Saville report found the killings of 14 civil rights marchers in Derry were 'unjustified'.

The Taoiseach congratulated the families on the success of their campaign.

“Today, I was honoured to accept a copy of the Saville Report from the families and representatives of the victims of Bloody Sunday", the Taoiseach said after meeting with relatives of the victims.

"Yesterday’s scenes at the Guildhall and the dignity shown by the families on that momentous day will long remain in our memories".

"I believe that the findings of the report, the reaction of the people of Derry, and the brave and honest words of Prime Minister Cameron in Westminster, can significantly advance the cause of healing and reconciliation", Mr Cowen said.

"We owe it to all of the victims of the Troubles and to our children to continue the great collective endeavour to build a better future for all of the people throughout this island”, the Taoiseach concluded.

Earlier in Derry, Protestant church leaders made a symbolic visit into the Bogside to meet the families of other victims.

Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Ken Good and the heads of the Presbyterian and Methodist churches joined relatives at a memorial to the dead.

Today's meetings follow the publication of the report of the Bloody Sunday inquiry yesterday which found the 14 people killed by British paratroopers on the streets of Derry on January 30th 1972 were innocent victims. The Saville report found none of the dead posed a threat and the actions of the soldiers were totally without justification.

British prime minister David Cameron told the House of Commons yesterday he was “deeply sorry” on behalf of the government and the country.

Relatives of the Bloody Sunday dead poured on to the steps of Derry’s Guildhall, where they were greeted by cheers from the thousands who gathered for the report’s release yesterday.

In 1998 the then prime minister Tony Blair commissioned Lord Saville to carry out a fresh inquiry.

The move followed a lengthy campaign by bereaved relatives, angry that official records still contained the Widgery Report which in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday had controversially cleared the soldiers of blame and accused the victims of being armed.

Saville’s findings, delivered after 12 years of deliberations and at a cost of nearly £200 million, effectively turned Widgery on its head by exonerating the dead and injured, and delivering a withering account of events that showed soldiers lied about their actions and falsely claimed to have come under attack.

“These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But you do not defend the British army by defending the indefensible,” Mr Cameron said.

“There is no point trying to soften or equivocate what is in the report. It is clear from the tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.”

Chief of the General Staff General Sir David Richards said: “The Prime Minister has apologised on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom, the army and those involved on the day, and I fully support that statement.”

Northern Ireland Chief Constable Matt Baggott and director of the North's Public Prosecution Service Sir Alasdair Fraser will now consider the implications of the report, with some relatives already on record as demanding troops be charged for their actions.

The Saville report detailed the circumstances of each of the deaths, including how Alexander Nash was shot and injured as he tended to his fatally wounded son, 19-year-old William.

It recounts how some victims were shot in the back, others were killed as they lay wounded, and some soldiers fired without believing they were at risk, or simply not caring if their targets posed a threat.

“Despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers,” the report said. “No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday.”

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was found by the report to have been shot by soldiers without justification, made an emotional address to the crowd at the Guildhall. “We have overcome,” he said to cheers from the crowd.