Bloody Sunday report: the British state still has fangs

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The Saville report into the events of Bloody Sunday has been widely praised for its findings. The report cost nearly £200 million and took 12 years to complete. David Cameron's apology has led to calls for him to be given the freedom of Derry. Has the world been turned upside down or is there something more cynical going on?

The tribunal set up by Tony Blair as part of the Northern Ireland peace process in 1998 and led by Lord Saville looked at the events of Sunday 30 January 1972.

The march to the Guildhall in Derry city centre was organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, a group formed to campaign for Catholic equality in Northern Ireland. During 1971 the Northern Ireland government imposed internment without trial for those accused of paramilitary activity. Only nationalists appeared on the list, many of them not members of the IRA. The march was organised in protest against the new law. The authorities decided to contain the march within the Catholic areas of the city. The British army were sent in to stop the marchers from proceeding and contain any potential trouble.

Soldiers from the First Parachute regiment opened fire on protesters who they claimed had opened fire on them. Thirteen people died of their bullet wounds on the day. None of the victims were carrying weapons, evidence was later fabricated. The British government ordered an inquiry. The subsequent Widgery report into the events of that day cleared the army of any wrong doing. It was widely seen at the time and since as a complete whitewash.

Even though there were killings that were carried out with more ruthlessness and premeditation before and after, Bloody Sunday became an iconic event in the conflict.

The Saville report overturned the findings of the Widgery report. Saville's report stated:

"The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland."

The release of the Saville report was followed by a statement from Prime Minister David Cameron where he said he was "deeply sorry" for what had happened. The report has been well received by almost everyone apart from the Army and some Unionist politicians.

The apology from the British Government should be taken with a pinch of salt. Any thought that the state is moving towards a fairer and less repressive approach can be quickly dispelled. In a parallel with the internment policies of the early 1970s in Northern Ireland the new Coalition government will continue with the previous Government's policy of detaining terror suspects without charge. In Birmingham the police have, temporarily, postponed the "installation of 169 automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras, 49 CCTV cameras and 72 ‘covert' cameras in two predominately Muslim areas in Birmingham." (Guardian, 6/7/10). The Northern Ireland Assembly is considering passing a law which requires any parade, protest or assembly, where more than 50 people may be present, to give 37 days notice to the authorities.

While its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan confirms that British imperialism has far from forsaken the military option, it will continue to use mechanisms of democracy to cover its tracks. So, for example, we can look forward to a new inquiry looking into the involvement of the UK secret services in the torture of suspects in the ‘war on terror'. Whatever the report ends up saying it won't change the brutal reality of British state terror

If the British state hasn't changed its spots why has Cameron apologised for its actions in 1972? The answer lies in the ‘peace process' that fosters the image of ‘peace and reconciliation' in Northern Ireland while fundamental antagonisms still exist.

While the ‘troubles' continued there were opportunities for Britain's imperialist rivals to undermine Britain's control of Northern Ireland. The IRA turned to the US and Libya at various times. The need to maintain the peace in Northern Ireland is more important than ever as Britain has been weakened by the economic crisis and its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain can't afford to wage another war in Northern Ireland and fight for its imperialist interests in the Middle East and beyond.

The pressure on the UK internally and externally can only increase. The British bourgeoisie is caught with the need to attack the working class at home and defend its position internationally with less resources.

In Northern Ireland there still exists, not far below the surface, intense sectarianism and the day to day intimidation and violence carried out by loyalist and republican gangs, passing mostly unreported. The discovery of bombs in an abandoned van outside a police station in Aughnacloy and in a beer keg beside a road near Keady in Armagh shows that the threat of a return to conflict still exists.  

Hugin 1/7/10