today the Saville Inquiry, which was established in 1998 by Tony Blair to investigate the Bloody Sunday shootings, published its report. in short: the shootings were “unjustified.” the soldiers fired without provocation or warning on unarmed civilians and killed fourteen people who were participating in a banned protest march.
not unlike how I felt when Barack Obama was elected President, there seems a real historical weight behind this announcement. the 1972 inquiry completely whitewashed the atrocity and absolved the military from any culpability in the deaths of the fourteen victims. the report by Lord Widgery accused the victims of firing weapons or throwing petrol bombs and while the Saville Report concludes that members of the Official IRA were present and armed in defensive positions, it was the soldiers who opened fire first. moreover, the new report leaves room for prosecution of the soldiers involved — those who fired weapons and those who lied before the current or previous Inquiry.
it’s astonishing to think of how conditions have changed in the north of Ireland in the time since the Saville Inquiry was convened in 1998. it is impossible to imagine that an inquiry of this nature would have come to this conclusion in 1998. the bombing in Canary Wharf occurred in February 1996, and the Good Friday Accords weren’t even signed until late in 1998. but now … now, 38 years after Bloody Sunday the Prime Minister of the UK has stood on the floor of the House of Commons and apologized to the victims. the conclusions of the report “are absolutely clear,” Cameron said. “There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.” obviously it is not the same man vocalizing policy today as in 1972 (Edward Heath), but I find that, in perhaps more ways than in the U.S., the individual becomes the Institution and on some emotional level it feels a little like the men responsible for the backward, horrifying, infuriating English policies towards Northern Ireland have, themselves, acknowledged the error and apologized. and I suppose that, as part of the pieces that make up Institution, they have apologized for their actions, whether they want to or not, whether they still stand by their decisions and actions or have amended their views in light of events of the last 38 years.
tonight, as I pulled into the lot after a nice long workout at the gym, I had a very rare “driveway moment” about Bloody Sunday. that unmistakable drumbeat started up on Triple M with that quality that tells you that the song’s been recorded live. Bono came on to introduce the song and with a raw, emotional edge to his voice said “This is not a rebel song. This is ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.'” it is amazing — amazing — to think of how much has changed in the world — and in the north of Ireland — since they sat down to write that song. and if the last couple years are any indication, it looks like things are still headed up.
coverage on the Report from the Guardian, coverage from BBC News, wikipedia on the Saville Report, and most worth reading, reaction to the Saville Report and the Prime Minister’s speech from the Guardian reporter who was covering the protests in Derry on Bloody Sunday.