Bloody Sunday continues to harm the British Army. And it’s a choice he keeps making
David Cameron had only been Prime Minister for a month in June 2010 when the 10-volume, 5,000-page Saville Report arrived in Downing Street. It was the result of an investigation into Bloody Sunday commissioned by Tony Blair’s government in 1998, and it concluded that all those killed were unarmed, that the soldiers had lost their temper and that nothing could justify the shootings.
Cameron had already decided that if the report was damning he would make a statement in the House of Commons and issue an unqualified apology.
“I was aware that my statement would appear simultaneously on a large screen in Derry, just half a mile from where the shooting took place. I thought of the families of the victims, many of whom are now elderly , who have waited 38 years for the truth. Of the reaction in pubs that sport the Irish tricolor and homes covered in murals of the dead,” he wrote in his memoir, For the Record.
“I also thought about the wider reaction – in the streets of unionized areas where the sidewalks are painted red, white and blue; on the roads where the Orangemen walk; in the homes of policemen, soldiers and Protestants who were murdered by the IRA and whose families will never see justice.
In his statement, Cameron described what happened on Bloody Sunday as “both unjustified and unjustifiable”, adding that “you don’t defend the British Army by defending the indefensible”. He was greeted in Derry with cheers and applause. But if the families of those who died thought the Saville report and Cameron’s apology marked a turning point on the road to justice, they were wrong.
Cameron’s successors in Downing Street have sought to shield British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland from prosecution for Troubles-related crimes. Boris Johnson has proposed a blanket ban on prosecution, investigation and civil suits for all crimes linked to the Troubles, whether committed by UK security forces or paramilitary groups.
Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer called last week (January 13) for a public inquiry into Northern Ireland’s prosecution service, accusing ‘extremists’ of using state leverage to rewrite the history of the Troubles.
“It is also a fact that when the Good Friday Agreement was reached, it was decided that the price to be paid for peace in Northern Ireland was to allow those who had previously led and directed this terrorist activity to enter government. This applied equally at all levels. Thus, the leaders of the IRA and loyalist groups entered politics, exercising control over the executive and, above all, allowing these extremists and their associates to use the powers of the state to prolong their grievances – and in doing so, of course, hiding their own murderous behavior. They seek to prosecute the same security forces that fought them and thus won the peace,” said he told the House of Commons.
Edward Burke is associate professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham and author of An Army of Tribes: British Army Cohesion, Deviancy and Murder in Northern Ireland. He says Mercer’s comments reflect a broader view among those seeking to defend veterans, but may actually damage the reputation of the British military.
“There is still a widespread opinion not only within the veterans community, but in my experience also among some officers in the British Army today, that the PSNI and the Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland North are engaged in a witch hunt against Northern Ireland veterans.. For the British military, for the British military community, for much of it, to lose faith in the British justice system or in the legal system in part of the UK is obviously detrimental.
“The fact that the military community, led by people like former Veterans Affairs Secretary Johnny Mercer, is so contemptuous and so critical of the British police or the police in any part of the UK, and justice system in part of their own country is detrimental. They see it as simply defending the rights of veterans, but for other parts of British society, or society in the United Kingdom, it has a very negative effect on the image of the British army and its commitment to transparency, accountability and justice,” he said. .
He said the British Army’s immediate reaction to Bloody Sunday was defensive, partly because senior military and political figures were involved.
The commander of the Northern Ireland land forces, General Robert Ford, was in Derry on the day of the shooting, and some senior government politicians had been pushing the armed forces to be more aggressive.
Burke, who taught at Royal Air Force College Cranwell*, said there was still a failure to learn from Bloody Sunday in a strategic, operational and tactical sense.
“In terms of the British Army killing its own citizens in such a wanton and unjustifiable way, you would think that the British Army should think about that and that when it comes to teaching ethics and when t is about teaching in terms of clear warnings, in terms of military deviance, is one of the most salient lessons the British military has learned from its recent past.
“And the fact that they can’t factor in, that they can’t put that in their core curriculum or in their DNA in terms of learning from that shows that the British military didn’t get away with it. handed over. Bloody Sunday continues to harm the British Army. And it is a choice that the British Army continues to make,” he said.
“The British Army is, of course, an emotional institution. So because the military community, including serving soldiers, is still very emotional about this and because this view has not been corrected, this sense of conspiracy against the British Army that the government has fueled rather than dampened means that the British Army cannot address this rationally It does not address this signal of failure in its past and does not grasp no opportunity to learn from it.
*This article was modified on January 22, 2022