Timewatch: Bloody Sunday
Monday, June 14, 7.30 p.m. (7 in Adelaide)
Reviewed by Bernie Brian
Bloody Sunday, the Channel Four film on the fatal shooting of 13 unarmed civil rights marchers on January 30, 1972, by an elite British army parachute regiment, analyses the findings of the British commission which exonerated the paratroopers.
The main defect of the documentary is that it does not supply enough background information, particularly regarding the reasons for the civil rights movement and the hostility of northern Catholics to the British army.
Since 1968 the Catholic communities of the North had been mobilising to demand the basic rights denied them by the apartheid state of Northern Ireland. The calls for electoral reform and an end to discrimination in housing and employment were violently opposed by the loyalist community. Images that are now more familiar to countries like South Africa, of police whipping demonstrators, were seen on TV stations around the world.
When the British army arrived in 1969, it was at first greeted with relief by the Catholic communities because it put a temporary stop to loyalist assaults on Catholic communities.
But it gradually became apparent that the army's real purpose was to suppress the Catholic rebellion. Catholic neighbourhoods were terrorised as British patrols imposed curfews and carried out searches. Those interned were subject to treatment later described by the European Court of Human Rights as inhuman and degrading.
Bloody Sunday documents how the British High Command was preparing to teach the Catholic community a lesson. Of particular embarrassment to the army was the liberated territory of "Free Derry" — a no-go area for the British and loyalists.
The paratroopers who entered "Free Derry" on that fateful afternoon were the first in six months. In 18 minutes they had killed 13 civilians, seven of whom were teenagers, and wounded 13 more.
All of those killed were unarmed and most were shot in
the back. One of the victims was shot with his hands in the air, another waving a white handkerchief. Still another, lying wounded on the pavement, was shot once again in the chest.
Despite the weight of evidence of what the Derry coroner called "sheer unadulterated murder", it took two years for the British government to acknowledge some error and pay some compensation to the victims. All this makes the newsreel footage of the cold and smug denials by the paratroopers even more chilling.
The documentary would have been strengthened if it had mentioned the reaction to the killings in other parts of Ireland. The Lynch government in the South declared a day of mourning; 20,000 marched in Dublin, and by the end of the day the British embassy had been burned to the ground.
Two months later, as a result of the domestic and international outcry, the loyalist-dominated parliament of Northern Ireland collapsed, and the British introduced direct rule. It remains to this day, exposing the "made in Britain" character of the political construction and the crisis of Northern Ireland.