N Ireland braces for report into Bloody Sunday killings

15th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain braced Tuesday for a long-awaited report into the killings of 13 people in one of the darkest days of Northern Ireland's three decades of violence, on so-called Bloody Sunday in 1972.

The incident, when British soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Londonderry, was one of the most controversial in Northern Ireland's history, and the report could re-open wounds in the province.

More than 3,500 people died during The Troubles, which were largely ended by a 1998 peace deal, but emotions still run high in Northern Ireland over its violent history, which pitched Catholics against Protestants.

The inquiry, which took 12 years to report at a cost of more than 190 million pounds (275 million dollars, 230 million euros), aims to paint a full picture of the events of January 30, 1972.

Families are notably hoping that it will find that none of the dead or wounded people, many of them teenagers, were gunmen or bombers, as was suggested by a 1972 probe which they dismiss as a whitewash.

Mickey McKinney, whose 27-year-old brother Willie was shot dead on the day, said authorities in London must be held to account. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom along with England, Scotland and Wales.

"We want the truth -- a declaration of innocence and a recommendation that those responsible are prosecuted," he said. "If I know justice has been done, I'll be able to move on and know I did my best."

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who was second in command for Catholic militant group the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Londonderry at the time, insisted the report would not lead to fresh divisions.

"My hope has to be that this is a very clear exposition of the terrible deed that was committed by the British state and the British armed forces on that day," the Sinn Fein politician told AFP.

"And also that that feeds into the need to ensure that we never, never again see, in any community, acts of violence such as this."

But some fear that the inquiry, which could point the finger at British soldiers and, in theory, result in their prosecution, may reopen old wounds.

Wilfred Brown, 71, who was a steward on the march, said the report "brings back a lot of memories of people getting shot for nothing."

"They shouldn't have opened up," he said, adding: "I hope there is no trouble."

The mainly Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose leader Peter Robinson is Northern Ireland's first minister, has been critical of the inquiry, saying it has created a "hierarchy of victims" in Northern Ireland.

"Whilst Lord Saville was investigating Bloody Sunday, there are thousands of other victims who have seen their cases virtually ignored," said local DUP lawmaker Gregory Campbell.

"There were over 3,500 people killed during what we call the Troubles and there are hundreds of unsolved cases right across the province, yet we see hundreds of millions of pounds spent investigating less than two dozen of those deaths."

The report is due to be published at 3:30pm (1430 GMT), when Prime Minister David Cameron will make a statement on its findings to the House of Commons in London, although victims' families are being given an early look.

Cameron's official spokesman told journalists the premier regarded the report as "a very important statement".

Beforehand, around 60 relatives and campaigners held a symbolic gathering in Londonderry -- known as Derry to Catholics -- to complete the march halted by the killings, while a public parade was also scheduled.

The inquiry, headed by senior judge Mark Saville, was called by former prime minister Tony Blair's Labour government in 1998 as Northern Ireland's peace process built momentum.

It heard from more than 900 witnesses and received statements from around 2,500 people. The evidence ran to an estimated 20-30 million words.

It is the longest-running and most expensive public inquiry in British history.

© 2010 AFP

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