At first the Catholic community welcomed the arrival of the British troops- as they were seen to be protecting the Catholics from attacks by Protestants. But within months, the IRA reformed and began to carry out attacks on the army. A split in the IRA caused the creation of two sides, the Official and the Provisional. The Provisional were Northern based and reacted violently to the British troops. In the summer of 1970, 3000 troops reacting to increased IRA activity searched the Falls Road- a mainly Catholic area.
After the summer rioting in 1970, troops entering Falls Road used tear gas, the whole area was put under curfew for 32 hours, and homes were ransacked in searches that proceeded. This was an advantage to the Provisionals as they were given information to propagandise. The IRA now had the opportunity to cause even more violence and a reason to turn Catholics against the troops. More and more Catholics began to support the IRA because of this; even more pressure was put on to get rid off the British army from Ulster. The Provisional IRA became more involved with Irish political affairs and demanded five things:
o The withdrawal of the British army from Ulster;
o Abolition of Stormont (the Ulster parliament);
o Free elections;
o Unification of Ulster with the Irish Republic;
o The release of all political prisoners.
To obtain these demands they used terrorist activities to put pressure on the British government. In 1971, the Provisional IRA launched a major bombing campaign- targeting Protestant shops and businesses. The IRA even attacked Catholics who they considered to be disloyal by mixing with the British army. This caused things to turn bitter, as they were no longer protecting their community but were now willing to go to any extent to get rid of the British army.
The Northern Ireland government introduced internment in attempt to curb the increasing violence. This meant that anyone suspected of terrorism would be arrested and put in prison without the need for a trial. It was intended to work against all terrorists and not just the IRA although most were Catholic. This backfired, the information that was used for the arrests was out of date and none of the current IRA leaders were arrested. Now rumours of torture from these arrests also circulated and fuelled Catholic anger, as civil rights were being abused. All these factors led to the events of Bloody Sunday.
On Sunday 30th January 1971, a civil rights demonstration took place in Derry. This march had been banned by the authorities as they thought it would become violent, the army put up barriers to prevent marchers entering the centre of Derry and the Guildhall. They were also ordered to send in “snatch squads” of soldiers to arrest any troublemakers, but soon things really kicked off. The army claimed to have been fired upon first and then return fire, but the Catholic leaders claim that no shots were fired at the army. The army caused the death of 13 civilians, and one died of wounds. These events and claims led to enquiries into the actual happenings of Bloody Sunday.
The official enquiry into the events surrounding Bloody Sunday is the Widgery Report. The Widgery Report seems to disagree with the march altogether as it claims that there would have been “no deaths” if it simply did not take place like the authorities demanded. It claims, “There was no general breakdown in discipline” of the army, and that they simply acted upon orders- which may not always be the right thing. This makes it support the army’s statement, “armed gunmen fired upon the army and they returned fire”. So we know that the Widgery Report supports the army’s version of the events of Bloody Sunday- but is it reliable?
The first thing to note is that Lord Widgery was an ex-army officer, so it makes it quite likely that he would be bias. The report also isn’t very consistent, as at it tells us that the wounded were not found with any firearms, but the army returned fire. These two claims don’t link up well and again, create more speculation on the biasness of this investigation. It also does not question any witnesses or wounded survivors and goes on what the army claims alone. The possibility of shooting directed into the Catholic Bogside from city walls was also not taken into consideration. From my interpretation of the Widgery Report, I would not rely on it alone to investigate what really happened on Bloody Sunday, as it does not look into any other view of the day other than that of the army’s.
This led to other interpretations of the event, but as many of the sources are biased we need to be careful how much of each source we take as fact and opinion.
The New Communist Party produced an article about the events leading up to Bloody Sunday and their own interpretation of what actually happened. It claims that the protesters had been “beaten off the streets” beforehand. It tells us how the Unionists intimidated the Nationalist protesters, with CS gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and even internment “without trial and marital law”. But this intimidation tactics “had failed” and this led to the march that kicked off the events of Bloody Sunday. It tells us that on a previous march a group of protesters were “savagely batoned by the British occupation forces” and this was a “foretaste of what was to come it the nationalist people still chose to defy British rule”. This immediately shows the British Army in a bad light, as though they were not really there to protect, but to enforce their rules by any means necessary.
But this only strengthened the will of the Catholics, so when the march to the Bogside arrived “the mood seemed almost ebullient”. But this mood was to be “cruelly shattered” by the British Army. When the march had to be redirected we are told that “CS gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets were unleashed by the occupation forces. But we are not told if this was provoked to contain the hooligans or not, so from this the attack seems very much unprovoked. The descriptions of how people were shot by the British Army are horrific and intensely inhumane. Again we see the British Army in a bad light, and wonder ourselves if they really were there to protect or if this was just a game to them. It goes onto tell us that “the facts about Bloody Sunday” have been “covered up”.
This source works strongly from the Catholic interpretation of what happened, which may be because the New Communist Party was violently opposed to the British Army being in Northern Ireland. Now that we know that they used violence, it is fair to say that the army may have been provoked by violence to take this action. But as this is very one-sided, and has given no credit to what the army has said it is not a very reliable source to rely on alone.
There is an article from a Republican point of view, they were very opposed to the British Army being in Northern Ireland and endorsed the IRA who used violent action to get them out. This article strongly supports the Catholic version of the events; it describes the official statement given in the House of Commons as a “tangle of lies”. It argues that no independent witness, who included “many high-profile anti-Republicans”, accepted the Unionist interpretation, and they would “have been only too delighted to drive a wedge between both wings of the IRA and the Nationalist population they served if they had been offered the slightest excuse to do so”.
So this would have been a useful piece of information to them, why would they not have used it? They reason their argument with the event having been planned by the British Army to draw out the IRA to “ambush” them, and to “terrorise” and “break the resistance” of the Catholics, who were the minority community. This would repress them, and they would bide by British Rule. It then goes onto refer to the Widgery Report as “whitewash” and says that it is “full of contradictions,” as there no consistency throughout the report.
I feel that this source makes some good points, but as it is from a Republican point of view it is biased and cannot be used solely to find out the truth behind what really happened.
An ITN new report broadcast is about an eyewitness that overheard soldiers before the events of Bloody Sunday. Daniel Porter had heard them talking about “clearing the Bogside” and then was later told of the plan by off-duty troops in a pun in England. Later he linked it to Bloody Sunday, after first assuming that they “clearing away the barricades”. The way that this is interpreted supports the Catholic version of the events, rather than the Protestant- though at first he claims to have thought of the army’s plans as innocent.
Fulvio Grimaldi, an Italian Journalist, was an independent eyewitness to the march that led into Bloody Sunday. He found the events “unbelievable”, and referred to it as a “cold-blooded murder, organised, disciplined murder, planned murder.” He tells us the events from how he saw them- we are told that at first there were a “few exchanges” and the protesters “threw a few rocks”, but it was nothing serious as they were “not very heavy”. The army then used the water cannon to spray the crowd, who then dispersed only to return later.
We can now see the events that led into Bloody Sunday from a less biased view- as we know that the protesters did taunt the army, who tried to handle the situation. Again the protesters threw more rocks, and CS gas was used “massively”. After this build up we are told that the paratroopers “jumped out” and “started shooting in all directions” but this was done without “the slightest provocation”. He claims that from the protesters there was “no shot, no nail bomb even, nothing at all” but the army still opened fire. He goes onto tell us how he witnessed innocent people being shot, some from even “about a yard away.” This creates a lot of emotion; the reader is immediately led to believe that the killing was a brutal massacre and cannot be just.
This source is meant to be from a neutral point of view but supports the Catholic interpretation of the events. But we have to remember that the reporter would have wanted to support a civil rights march, and only saw what was happening from the actual march and was not just an onlooker.
The differences between the interpretations led only to more violence in Northern Ireland. There was a complete breakdown of law, the IRA began to attack mainland Britain, causing the Unionists to become even more extreme in their actions. All these consequences supported the British Army’s interpretation of the events. On 24th March 1972, Edward Heath announced that the Ulster parliament of Stormont would be suspended, the British parliament at Westminster were to take direct responsibility for the governing of Ulster as William Whitelaw became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Now there were even more soldiers in Ulster, to settle the situation but this only fuelled the Catholics with more anger. More and more extremist action was taken- and there was an increase of support from abroad for this. The IRA even began to carry out assassinations and bombings, and splinter groups from the IRA such as the Irish national Libration Army emerged. This again supported the British Army’s interpretation of the events, as there may have been violent IRA members that took place in the march.