3rd February 2002
Kelly addresses 30th anniversary commemoration of Bloody Sunday
Sinn Fein MLA for North Belfast Gerry Kelly gave the main address on this the 30th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday said "The people of Derry know the truth. They had to act on that knowledge. There is a responsibility in truth. When those who denied the truth eventually have the facts of that day proven publicly I hope that they can live up to the responsibility of those truths half as well as the relatives and friends of those who died."
It is a great honour to be invited here to say a few words on the 30th Anniversary of those terrible events that became known as Bloody Sunday and which was a watershed in the lives of a whole generation of Irish people.
My generation was probably really the first television generation. I witnessed the events in Derry in October 1968, on the T.V. from Belfast at the age of 15; I witnessed the attacks at Burntollet Bridge. In August 1969 I came through Derry just after the onslaught on the Bogside by loyalists, the RUC and B-Specials. It then spread to Belfast, state forces fired indiscriminately into catholic homes from armoured cars. I remember the Falls curfew in 1970 and the internment raids and deaths of August 1971. Like Bishop Daly another brave priest - Fr Mullan went to the aid of a wounded man on the edge of Ballymurphy where I was brought up. Fr Mullan was shot dead. As were many others in the area.
In January 1972, I was 18 years old. I was a member of Na Fianna Eireann and was serving a two-year sentence in a Dublin jail. On January 23rd, the Sunday before Bloody Sunday, I escaped from jail, hid out in a safe house in Dublin and returned to Belfast to go on the run. So I had already decided to fight British occupation and its injustices. What I wasn't sure of, was whether I could do what the IRA would call on me to do. Whatever doubts I had about my intentions as I celebrated my freedom on January 30th the events of that day certainly had a profound effect on my decision.
The reason I recount this is because I think it is important to realise that Bloody Sunday was not an isolated incident or action but it was a line in the sand, not just for me but arguably for a whole generation of youth. I have heard innumerable commentators over the years saying that Bloody Sunday was a recruiting sergeant for the IRA as if that was the only problem with it. Not the fact that 13 innocent unarmed civilians were massacred that day. I joined the IRA within days as did many others, but Bloody Sunday was also the recruiting sergeant for republicans and nationalists all over Ireland to fight for freedom, justice and a lasting peace in their own way.
Republicans and Nationalists in every walk of life stood up with more determination against discrimination and against sectarianism. Individuals as well as organisations fought for equal rights, civil rights, cultural rights, for justice, for national rights. There was an eruption of emotion and reaction but there was also a quite gradual, sometimes glacial determined movement, which has become unstoppable.
I was a proud IRA man, but to simply describe those events 30 years ago as a recruiting sergeant for the IRA is to grossly underestimate the enormous psychological effect of Bloody Sunday.
To think of the events of that day as some sort of isolated or rogue event is far from the truth. Bloody Sunday was infact a massacre waiting to happen. During the early 70's the Paras were the British government's military cutting edge. Between internment in August 1971 and the following August the British Army killed 89 people; the Paras were responsible for killing forty of these people across the six counties. Since 1969 the British Army has killed 339 people, the overwhelming majority were nationalists.
The British government not only permitted their troops to kill innocent civilians they encouraged them to do so. And these troops did so in the clear knowledge that they had immunity. They had in fact a licence to kill. And let us be clear about this. The violence that was visited on you thirty years ago was not mindless, was not irrational, was not spontaneous, nor the actions of an individual commander in the British Army. The killing of innocent civilians was well thought out. This violence was methodical and it was politically cleared and approved at the highest level.
Its purpose was to terrorise the nationalist and republican people. It was designed to intimidate us, to frighten us, not only off the streets but to abandon our quest for civil rights and for national rights. It was aimed at forcing us to stay indoors, to peak from behind curtains, to cower in the face of injustice. That was what the British government did all over its empire - unfortunately it was not new. That is what they tried to do here on these streets thirty years ago.
But the wall of secrecy was breached on Bloody Sunday because the media was here to record what happened. On Bloody Sunday there was no gun battle. The march was peaceful. There were thousands of people, men women and children and there was a carnival atmosphere. The big difference between the killings on these streets and the killings that happened elsewhere was that the media were present. They saw the reality for themselves. They saw the British Army mow down unarmed people; they saw the bullets; they saw the terror. And the world witnessed it. The word got out around the world .a massacre of the innocents had taken place on the streets of a small Irish town.
The Paras fired 119 bullets according to the British Army. Their killing spree lasted 18 minutes from 4.07pm until 4.25pm. They shot 28 people; they killed 13, one man John Johnson died some weeks later, 14 others were wounded, some maimed for life. There was a message carried in every one of those bullets. It was a simple message: get off the streets, stop protesting or we will kill you.and as the life drained out of those lying on the streets being comforted by their stunned and shocked neighbours and friends, life drained out of the notion that peaceful protest could bring change, to the sectarian, apartheid statelet in which we lived.
What was witnessed that day was a ruthless and determined British government who almost got away with mass murder. Almost, but for the families and the friends of those who died campaigning for the truth they would have got away with it. They managed to conceal and confuse and confound truth for almost thirty years. On my own behalf I would like to commend the families and their supporters for not giving in, for not yielding in the face of British indifference, in the face of hopelessness, apathy, intimidation and lies. At times I know you ploughed a lonely furrow.
But every day now the people of Ireland and around the world are hearing another piece of the truth of what happened on that awful day. And we can see through the Saville enquiry the lengths that the British military and political establishment is prepared to go to frustrate the families in their search for the truth. That establishment is responsible for the actions of the British Army. They were responsible for Bloody Sunday and they are responsible for the obstacles that have been placed in the way of the families' search for the truth.
They are determined to protect all those involved in Bloody Sunday both the military and political people. Why else would the British Ministry of Defence not be legally represented at the Saville enquiry. Why else would they destroy forensic evidence? Why else would they destroy the very rifles which were used on that day? Why else would they refuse to hand over crucial photographic, video and documentary evidence? Why else would they fight for anonymity for those responsible for the killings. Why else would they fight for and secure hearings in England.
What all of this represents is the contempt that this section of the British establishment has for the people they killed and those they left to grieve. It is exactly the same mentality that cleared the killings on Bloody Sunday, that tried to cover them up for nearly thirty years and is now frustrating the Saville enquiry.
But the truth will come out. That much we know. And I also know that many other families who lost loved ones at the hands of the crown forces and their allies in the loyalist death squads take heart from the determination of the families of the victims and survivors of Bloody Sunday. They look to you for strength and I know they get the support they need.
Tomorrow I will speak at the commemoration of another similar slaughter of the innocents in North Belfast. We know of course it did not stop on Bloody Sunday, just a year later on the 3rd February 1973 the British Army was involved in the killing of six unarmed innocent civilians and the wounding of nine others. There was no media, but the British told the same lies and took the same actions. There was no gun battle. One man was shot dead by the British Army as he waved a white flag. Another two shot dead as they tried to help the injured. One was shot at his front door wearing only a pair of trousers which he had hurriedly put on.
The families of these men who are still seeking truth and justice have their eyes fixed on Derry at this moment.
I have said Bloody Sunday was not an isolated incident - There are many others like the Springhill massacre, or Loughgall or Gibraltar. The relatives are looking to Derry as a shining example that the search for truth is a worthy and achievable goal.
These are difficult times for all grieving relatives of those who died in the conflict.
By teatime on that Sunday afternoon, 3 women would be widowed 19 children would lose a father, 20 parents would lose a son, 99 siblings would lose a brother, a week later another child would be born never to see his father and a few months later another woman would lose a husband to the tragic events of that day.
These are traumatic facts. I know many Derry people and I am struck by the emotion which Bloody Sunday brings to the fore in them. I have no doubt that Bloody Sunday changed the lives of those living in this city and its impact continues despite the passage of time.
The people of Derry know the truth. They had to act on that knowledge. There is a responsibility in truth. When those who denied the truth eventually have the facts of that day proven publicly I hope that they can live up to the responsibility of those truths half as well as the relatives and friends of those who died.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh
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