On June 15, 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered a formal apology for the actions of the army in shooting dead 14 civilians and injuring many more on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.Mr Cameron made the apology in a statement in the House of Commons following the publication of the Saville inquiry. The inquiry had been called for in 1998 by Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister.
It took 12 years to complete at a cost of £200m. It cleared the victims of blame and described the actions of the soldiers in opening fire as unjustified.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement.
Today, my Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville Inquiry…the Tribunal set up by the previous Government to investigate the tragic events of 30th January 1972 – a day more commonly known as “Bloody Sunday”.
We have acted in good faith by publishing the Tribunal’s findings as quickly as possible after the General Election.
Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic.
I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our Army who I believe to be the finest in the world.
And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. 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.
Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of Support Company who went into the Bogside “did so as a result of an order…which should have not been given” by their Commander…
…on balance the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army…
…that “none of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm”…
…that “there was some firing by republican paramilitaries…but….none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties”…
…and that “in no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire”.
He also finds that Support Company “reacted by losing their self-control…forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training” with “a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline”.
He finds that “despite the contrary evidence given by the soldiers…none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers”… and that many of the soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”.
What’s more – Lord Saville says that some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying.
The Report refers to one person who was shot while “crawling…away from the soldiers”…
…another was shot, in all probability, “when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground”…
…and a father was “hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to…tend his son”.
For those looking for statements of innocence, Saville says: “The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of the those deaths and injuries”…
…and – crucially – that “none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting”.
For those people who were looking for the Report to use terms like murder and unlawful killing, I remind the House that these judgements are not matters for a Tribunal – or for us as politicians – to determine.
Mr Speaker, these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say.
But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.
We do not honour all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth. So there is no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this Report.
It is clear from the Tribunal’s authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified. I know some people wonder whether nearly forty years on from an event, a Prime Minister needs to issue an apology.
For someone of my generation, this is a period we feel we have learned about rather than lived through.
But what happened should never, ever have happened.
The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day – and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our Armed Forces acted wrongly.
The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.
Mr. Speaker, just as this Report is clear that the actions of that day were unjustifiable…so too is it clear in some of its other findings.
Those looking for premeditation, those looking for a plan, those looking for a conspiracy involving senior politicians or senior members of the Armed Forces – they will not find it in this Report.
Indeed, Lord Saville finds no evidence that the events of Bloody Sunday were premeditated…
…he concludes that the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments, and the Army, neither tolerated nor encouraged “the use of unjustified lethal force”.
He makes no suggestion of a Government cover-up. And Lord Saville credits the UK Government with working towards a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland.
Mr Speaker, the Report also specifically deals with the actions of key individuals in the army, in politics and beyond… including Major General Ford, Brigadier MacLellan and Lieutenant Colonel Wilford.
In each case, the Tribunal’s findings are clear. It also does the same for Martin McGuinness.
It specifically finds he was present and probably armed with a “sub-machine gun” but concludes “we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
Mr. Speaker, while in no way justifying the events of January 30th 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday.
Since 1969 the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly.
Three days before ‘Bloody Sunday’, two RUC officers – one a Catholic – were shot by the IRA in Londonderry, the first police officers killed in the city during the Troubles.
A third of the city of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army. And in the end 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland’s bloodiest year by far with nearly 500 people killed.
And let us also remember, Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969-2007.
This was known as Operation Banner, the longest, continuous operation in British military history, spanning thirty-eight years and in which over 250,000 people served.
Our Armed Forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland.
Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible… and over 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives to that cause.
Without their work the peace process would not have happened. Of course some mistakes were undoubtedly made. But lessons were also learned.
Once again, I put on record the immense debt of gratitude we all owe those who served in Northern Ireland. Mr. Speaker, may I also thank the Tribunal for its work – and all those who displayed great courage in giving evidence.
I would also like to acknowledge the grief of the families of those killed. They have pursued their long campaign over thirty-eight years with great patience. Nothing can bring back those that were killed but I hope, as one relative has put it, the truth coming out can set people free.
John Major said he was open to a new inquiry. Tony Blair then set it up. This was accepted by the then Leader of the Opposition.
Of course, none of us anticipated that the Saville Inquiry would last 12 years or cost £200 million.
Our views on that are well documented. It is right to pursue the truth with vigour and thoroughness…
…but let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.
But today is not about the controversies surrounding the process. It’s about the substance, about what this report tells us. Everyone should have the chance to examine the complete findings – and that’s why the report is being published in full.
Running to more than 5000 pages, it’s being published in 10 volumes.
Naturally, it will take all of us some time to digest the report’s full findings and understand all the implications. The House will have the opportunity for a full day’s debate this autumn – and in the meantime I have asked my Rt Hon Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and Defence to report back to me on all the issues that arise from it.
Mr Speaker, this report and the Inquiry itself demonstrate how a State should hold itself to account…
…and how we are determined at all times – no matter how difficult – to judge ourselves against the highest standards.
Openness and frankness about the past – however painful – do not make us weaker, they make us stronger. That’s one of the things that differentiates us from terrorists.
We should never forget that over 3,500 people – people from every community – lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists. There were many terrible atrocities.
Politically-motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from.
And it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to drag Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No Government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who continue to seek to destroy it.
But neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville –
“What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.”
These are words we cannot and must not ignore.
But what I hope this Report can also do is to mark the moment when we come together, in this House and in the communities we represent.
Come together to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us. And come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland’s troubled past. That is not to say that we must ever forget or dismiss that past.
But we must also move on.
Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past twenty years…and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future.
It is with that determination that I commend this statement to the House.