The Bloody Truth

The Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday is: “established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely the events on Sunday 30 January 1972 which led to loss of life in connection with the procession in Londonderry on that day, taking account of any new information relevant to events on that day.”

For the families of those who died on Bloody Sunday their stated objective in the long campaign for a Public Inquiry is ‘the truth’. Their hope is admirable. Is their cause attainable? Will they gain closure?

We will ballpark the sum to be spent on the Saville Inquiry at around £200 million, give or take a few million. It has taken years, volumes of evidence, acres of newspaper reporting. One more year is needed, apparently, before a report will be ready. And then? Will the truth be told?

At the end of the Saville Inquiry all we will have is a conclusion based on the volume of information the Inquiry has gathered. To understand just why the Saville Inquiry will fail to find a definitive truth we need to look just a year or two later than Bloody Sunday.

Kathleen Feeney was 14 years old when she was shot while playing on a street in Londonderry, November 1973. She was the second youngest of five children and the sister of an SDLP Councillor.

At the time the IRA said; “The people of Derry are aware that we have admitted responsibility for our actions even when mistakes were made by us and civilians injured.” It continued: “We say categorically that the shooting of young Kathleen Feeney was the work of the British Army and not of the Republican movement.”

Unsurprisingly, street rioting and mayhem ensued after the shooting. The IRA claimed at the time that it had killed a soldier dead in revenge.

Over thirty years later the IRA issued a statement that tells a very different version of events. In a statement released to the Derry Journal the Provisional IRA said: “The IRA accepts responsibility for the death of Kathleen Feeney. Our failure to publicly accept responsibility for her death until now has only added to the hurt and pain of the Feeney family.” The statement continued that: “Kathleen was hit by one of a number of shots fired by an IRA active service unit that had fired upon a British army foot patrol.”

There was an apology to the Feeney family. The statement also made reference to, “an operation against the British Army in retaliation for the death of Kathleen Feeney.” There was no apology for the murder of the unnamed soldier.

We know therefore that the IRA believed it perfectly just to lie to exacerbate division and to increase alienation of nationalists from authority. The killing of Kathleen Feeney was important in this respect. The sister of an SDLP councillor would show that no nationalist was ‘safe’ from the Brits: that the Brits killed indiscriminately. The claim to have shot a British soldier in reprisal placed the IRA as defenders of all nationalists and not just republicans.

Why does this matter in respect to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry? It matters because lying about IRA operations was an essential element of strategy. Anything that reinforced alienation from the British, and in particular induced a hatred of the British Army, was an essential part of building the IRA’s profile as defenders of the Catholic population.

So is it possible to believe IRA claims not to have had guns on the streets on the day? Did the Parachute Regiment shoot without provocation?

How could the IRA ever admit to having played a role on Bloody Sunday? Bloody Sunday shocked, alienated, and radicalised the Catholic population of Londonderry, and further afield. The IRA gained moral justification for its campaign of violence.

The IRA gave no evidence to the Saville Inquiry. For the IRA there is one truth – a truth that allowed a single day to justify murder and mayhem for a generation to follow, and even now…

Pity the families of those who died as a consequence of Bloody Sunday; the fourteen who died as a consequence of that particular day and the scores that followed in the wake. The search for truth, irrelevant of how much money is spent, will probably remain a futile quest.

The IRA lied to further its cause in respect of Kathleen Feeney’s murder. Should we dismiss the possibility that it could not allow the truth to be revealed if that were to undermine a fundamental justification on which it built its murderous campaign?

Poor little Kathleen Feeney was merely collateral damage to the IRA. Her family could be afforded the truth because in the history of the total conflict her death was of little significance to the IRA. Will there be any such closure for the families of those who died on Bloody Sunday?

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