Taoiseach to attend Bloody Sunday memorial service in Derry

Flying of Parachute Regiment flags on outskirts of Derry is universally condemned

The Taoiseach is to lay a wreath at the memorial to those killed on Bloody Sunday during a service in Derry to mark the 50th anniversary of the atrocity. Micheál Martin is also expected to meet privately with the families of those killed, The Irish Times understands.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, is also due to attend the ceremony on Sunday morning, as will other church leaders and politicians including the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, vice president and the North's Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, and the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

President Michael D Higgins will deliver a virtual address at an event in Guildhall Square on Sunday afternoon.

Thirteen people died when members of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment opened fire on an anti-internment march in the city on January 30th, 1972. A fourteenth died later.

John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was among the victims, said the Taoiseach would be welcomed by the Bloody Sunday families and it "shows the depth of feeling that the Irish Government has for the families who have witnessed and endured the suffering of Bloody Sunday for five decades.

“It’s a nice tribute from the Irish Government and the people of Ireland and certainly will be welcomed by the families and the people of Derry,” he said.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Eastwood, the MP for Foyle, condemned the flying of Parachute Regiment flags which have appeared on the outskirts of Derry ahead of the anniversary and asked the Northern Secretary, Brandon Lewis, if he felt the regiment should "apologise for and condemn the actions of their soldiers on Bloody Sunday?"

In a post on social media, the Parachute regiment criticised the flying of the flags, describing it as “totally unacceptable and disrespectful behaviour.”

It has been condemned by both nationalist and unionist politicians and by relatives of the victims. Mr Kelly said they were “offensive to families and offensive to the people of Derry” and he called on community leaders in those areas and on unionist politicians to have them removed.

The DUP Assembly member for Foyle, the junior minister Gary Middleton, said the flags were "unnecessary and designed to be offensive" and the flags should be removed.

Responding to Mr Eastwood in the Commons, Mr Lewis said “we, as the Government, have to accept responsibility for what has happened in the past. When things are wrong we need to be clear about that, as we have been. It’s right that we have apologised for that.

“I’ve added my own personal apology to the government’s,” he said.

In a statement to the Commons earlier Mr Lewis acknowledged the upcoming 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the apology from the then prime minister, David Cameron, and said his "thoughts this weekend will be with all those affected".

Referring to UK government’s new proposals for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles, he said it was engaging intensively and widely and “reflecting carefully on what we have heard.”

In a statement to The Irish Times on Wednesday, a spokesman for the UK ministry of defence said it did “not condone in any way” the “misuse” of flags, which should be “used only in an official capacity.”

He said that following the publication of the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday in 2010 “the Chief of General Staff (Gen Sir David Richards) fully supported the prime minister’s apology on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, the army and those involved and this remains the army’s position.”