Fifty years after the death of 13 demonstrators shot dead by British soldiers, a march honored, on Sunday January 30, the memory of the victims of Bloody Sunday (“Bloody Sunday”), in Northern Ireland bruised by the dark years of the “Troubles”. and dashed hopes of justice.
Portraits in hand at the head of the procession, hundreds of people, relatives of the victims and anonymous, paid tribute to the victims, retracing the route of the peaceful demonstration for civil rights which ended in a bloodbath, shortly after 4:30 p.m. on January 30, 1972 in Londonderry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland.
It was "a massacre in our streets," said Michael McKinney, whose brother was killed during the demonstration. “We have come a long way since the horror of that day,” he added, stressing that the families still demand “the prosecution of the criminals in uniform who killed ours” .
Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin became the first leader of the Republic of Ireland to attend the annual ceremony, where he laid a wreath, as did Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
A second march is planned for the afternoon, in the streets of Derry – a name that the inhabitants prefer to the official name of Londonderry, synonymous with British domination – to arrive at the time when the paratroopers of the first battalion had opened fire. on the Catholic demonstrators.
Bloody Sunday had the effect of precipitating many young Republican Catholics into the arms of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), a paramilitary group opposed to any British presence on the island of Ireland. It was not until 1998 that the Good Friday peace agreement put an end to three decades of conflict which left 3,500 dead.
Twelve years of investigation, charges dropped
The British army had claimed that the paratroopers had responded to fire from IRA "terrorists" , a version confirmed by a hastily produced report in the following weeks. Despite all the testimonies contradicting this version, it was not until 2010 that the innocence of the victims was officially recognized, some of whom were injured in the back or even on the ground, waving a white handkerchief.
At the end of the longest investigation – twelve years – and the most expensive that the United Kingdom has known (nearly 200 million pounds sterling, or 240 million euros at the current exchange rate), the Prime Minister at the time, David Cameron, issued an official apology for these "unjustified and unjustifiable" acts.
No soldier was tried for Bloody Sunday. Murder charges against one of them were dropped over legal issues and the British government introduced a bill to end all prosecutions in connection with the 'Troubles', denounced on all sides as a ' amnesty” .
Renewed tensions with Brexit
A few days ago, a paratroopers' flag hoisted in a loyalist district of the city created a stir, to the point of being mentioned during a session in Parliament in London. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Bloody Sunday a "tragic day in [ history ]".
In recent months, the effects of Brexit have underlined the fragility of the balance of the peace agreement signed in 1998. The decried customs provisions, intended to avoid any land border with Ireland – but establishing a de facto maritime Great Britain – are currently the subject of intense negotiations between London and Brussels.
They have also revived community tensions: during riots in Belfast in the spring, the gates of the "walls of peace" separating Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods were set on fire.
The local elections in May promise to be decisive for the fragile political balance in place. With a decline of the Unionists, a Republican victory is deemed credible. Sinn Fein, formerly the political branch of the IRA, wants a referendum on the reunification of the island within five years.
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