Taoiseach welcomes Saville report

 

The Taoiseach has today welcomed the findings of the Bloody Sunday inquiry as a step in healing the "gaping wounds" of the injustice committed that day.

Lord Saville's inquiry into the killings of 14 civilians in Derry by British soldiers on January 30th, 1972, has found they were “unjustified”.

The inquiry's 5,000 page report, published this afternoon, was heavily critical of the behaviour of the army in Derry on the day and found that all those killed were innocent.

Referring to those who died on Bloody Sunday, Brian Cowen said: "Their names are carved in stone in Derry where they fell, their memories are etched in the hearts of their loved ones and their deaths are inscribed indelibly on the pages of Irish history."

"It was an immense tragedy for those who were killed and injured and for the people of Derry. It was also a turning point in the Troubles in Northern Ireland that lead to a huge upsurge in support for violence. It was therefore an immense tragedy for all of the people of these islands.

"The ultimate injustice perpetrated on Bloody Sunday was the unjustified and unjustifiable killing of innocent civilians by those who claimed to be keeping the peace and upholding the law. It was an act of murder that cried out for justice and truth."

Instead, Mr Cowen said, justice and truth were denied cast aside, adding the suffering of the victims and their families was compounded by "discredited and disgraceful" findings of the Widgery tribunal.

"The Saville inquiry was made necessary not by the events of Bloody Sunday, horrific though they were . . . but by the whitewash that was the Widgery report."

The Taoiseach also praised the victims' families and friends for their persistence and dignity in the face of what he said was a "shameful attempt to distort history at the expense of the innocent".

"The publication of the Saville report is about the future as well as the past . . . we owe it to our children to continue the great collective endeavour to build a better future in Derry and throughout Ireland," he said. "Now the city is building its own future, freed from its shackles that held it back in previous generations."

Mr Cowen thanked British prime minister David Cameron for his "brave and honest words" that he said would echo around the world. Earlier this afternoon Mr Cameron told the House of Commons the soldiers' actions were both "unjustified and unjustifiable" and he apologised for them.

Mr Cowen commended Mr Cameron's good faith for publishing the report so early in the latter's term of office.

The inquiry set up to investigate the deaths was set up in 1998 under the chairmanship of Lord Saville of Newdigate. He found soldiers lost their self-control in firing their weapons, "forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training and failing to satisfy themselves that they had identified targets posing a threat of causing death or serious injury".

Concluding, the Taoiseach said: "From this day forth, history will record what the families have always known to be true . . . 14 innocent people died on the streets of Derry on January 30th, 1972. There is no doubt, there are no ambiguities. In truth, there never were. They were innocent. May they rest in peace."

President Mary McAleese has also welcomed the report and said she hoped it would provide consolation to survivors and families that the world now knows the "awful truth" about Bloody Sunday.

In a statement, Mrs McAleese, who is on a visit to China, said the "comprehensive scale" of the report reflected the importance of Bloody Sunday in the narrative of the North's conflict. "We can all best honour the memory of those who died by taking the time to read the report in detail and to reflect carefully on its findings and conclusions."

She said it was a momentous day for the survivors and families of Bloody Sunday "as they have pursued their campaign for justice and truth for over 38 years and have done so with resolute and dignified determination".

The president thanked Lord Saville and his team, and she paid tribute to former prime minster Tony Blair and late secretary of state Mo Mowlam for the decision to set up the inquiry.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the apology given by the British government for the behaviour of the army in Derry was significant and to be welcomed.

“Crucially, the conclusions of the Saville inquiry clearly lay responsibility for firing the first shot with the British army. It also finds that some of the British solders involved lost control as a result of an order to shoot, which never should have been given.

“I hope that the clarity of this key finding will help to provide some measure of comfort to the families of the victims,” Mr Kenny said.

Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Deputy Noel Treacy, said: “The findings of the Saville inquiry are clear and unequivocal and the Committee welcomes its conclusions. The Saville Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings found the actions of British soldiers was ‘both unjustified and unjustifiable’. It found that none of those killed posed any threat to British troops, the first shots were fired by British troops, no warnings were given, and some of the soldiers lost control.

Elsewhere, Bishop of Derry Seamus Hegarty praised the "unequivocal and strong language" used by Lord Saville to confirm the innocence of the victims who were killed and injured.

"May God bless the relatives and friends of the victims. Today is their day and it is a very significant day for the people of Derry," he said. Dr Hegarty also paid tribute to those who cared for victims on the day, including Bishop Edward Daly and other clergy.