Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bloody Sunday

Here's Peter Hitchens on the Bloody Sunday inquiry report:

"I have said for years that the British government should apologise for Bloody Sunday. This is for firmly Unionist reasons. Londonderry ( as I still call it) is in my view a British city ( and certainly felt like one to me when I at last managed to go there a few years back). I've nothing against those who wish to call it 'Derry'(or 'Doire'), provided they don't mind me calling it Londonderry. But I think the BBC, being a British institution, should stick with 'Londonderry' - as should ministers in the British government. I'll relax my view of this if ever I hear an Irish politician , or RTE, the Republic's equivalent of the BBC, refer to the city as 'Londonderry' in a gesture to its Protestant inhabitants.

But the main point of this is simple. If such a thing had happened to Her Majesty's peaceful subjects in Portsmouth, Cardiff, Hull, Liverpool or Aberdeen, the government would - and should - have fallen the next day.

And it remains shameful that Edward Heath and his Cabinet did not resign the morning after this dreadful blunder, which was of course perpetrated by soldiers - but by soldiers whose orders and deployment originated in London, and in the not-very-bright policies of the day towards Ireland.

So I am glad of the apology, far too long delayed. I think David Cameron delivered it with proper gravity and without any attempt to qualify it. This was right.

But I am annoyed by the report, which seems to me to have an entirely political purpose and may not be a wholly accurate account of events. How can we know, in such detail, so long afterwards? It is interesting to examine one's memory, when events which took place in one's own lifetime gradually solidify into historical events. I can remember hearing the news of the shootings on the Sunday evening on the radio (as I generally heard news in those days of scarce TVs and infrequent bulletins) that freezing cold weekend in York, and the angry demonstration we students mounted the following day, its indignation for once entirely justified. But if you asked me for details of either day, instead of brief and probably misleading scraps of memory, I would be unable to help you.

In fact a couple of years ago, on an assignment in Moscow, I travelled by metro to the district where I had lived for a year in 1992. When I arrived at the familiar station, I made for the steps by which I was sure I had always exited, and walked as if to go to my block of flats. I was completely wrong. The exit was wrong. My direction was wrong. I walked the wrong way. in increasing bafflement, for half a mile because I was so sure I was right. Reluctantly, I had to accept that my memory, for all its insistent clarity, was misleading, to put it mildly. And that was a distance in time of about 16 years, less than half the period which separates us all from Bloody Sunday.

I'll have more to say about this later, but if we are to go on a voyage of rediscovery through the Northern Ireland Morass, I think we need to be a good deal more even-handed about what we study.

And by the way, the closed-minded people who always write in and say that I am some kind of patsy for the 'Loyalist' scum are completely wrong. I loathe the violent racketeers of the 'Loyalist' side just as much as I loathe the IRA. My case is and remains that the compromise which kept Northern Ireland British could have been reformed peacefully, and under British rule - and that Direct Rule was actually rather a good thing, which could and should have been made permanent. It was those who insisted on the 'Irish Dimension' who turned this from a reasonable campaign for reform into a struggle over sovereignty which is not yet over. And it was those people who also marginalised the decent and the lawful, and brought into power the bloodstained and the lawless.

If we ever conducted a proper inquiry into the whole Northern Ireland shambles, from 1969 to now, the Irish Republican Army and its front men and women would be the principal culprits, making trouble where there was none, pretending to be what they were not, always preferring hate and violence to peaceful compromise."

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