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Peter Morrison/AP
Lord Saville, chairman of the Bloody
Sunday inquiry

‘Bloody Sunday’ Inquiry Criticized for Delay, Cost

November 14, 2008 12:58 PM
by Denis Cummings
A British government investigation into the events of the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” incident has been delayed for another year, angering politicians and victims’ families.

Bloody Sunday Inquiry Delayed Until 2009

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This week, Lord Saville of Newdigate, chairman of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, announced that his report would not be completed before autumn 2009, calling the previous target “a substantial underestimate.” The inquiry, which was formed in 1998 and has cost an estimated £182 million thus far, has been heavily criticized for surpassing time and cost estimates.

The inquiry is trying to determine the events of the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident in Londonderry (Derry), when 14 Catholic civilians were killed by British soldiers who fired into a crowd of civil rights marchers. It stopped hearing witnesses and evidence in early 2005, but has yet to near completion of its report. The families of Bloody Sunday victims are outraged over the delay.

“All of a sudden the timescale changed again and we need to know the reason why. We have waited so long already—and now our patience is starting to wear thin,” John Kelly, brother of victim Michael Kelly, told the Irish Times. “Since the inquiry began, six of the injured have died, campaigning siblings have died and there’s only one surviving parent left, Lawrence McElhinney [father of Kevin McElhinney]. So time really is of the essence.”

British taxpayers are angered by the costs of the inquiry, which has risen £27 million since 2005 and still rising hundreds of thousands of pounds a month. “It has all been madness, a demonstration of what happens when lawyers are permitted by a weak judge to graze unchecked for years upon limitless pastures of public money,” writes Max Hastings of The Guardian.

He argues the money would be better spent investigating modern problems than a 36-year-old incident, calling the Saville inquiry an “exercise in archaeology rather than public enlightenment.”

Kelly, however, believes the costs are justified. Responding to unionist Member of Parliament Gregory Campbell’s criticism of the costs, he said, “He should be thinking about what the inquiry is about—the search for truth and justice. To us it is immaterial what it costs. You cannot put a price on a human life in a search for truth and justice.”

Background: Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry

Bloody Sunday occurred on Jan. 30, 1972, as Catholics marched through Derry protesting internment of Irish Republicans without trial. The policy, introduced on Aug. 9, 1971 due to increase in Irish Republican violence, further increased the violence and unrest in Derry.

The march was originally planned to march to the Guildhall in the unionist section of the city, but the British troops established barricades to direct the march to the Free Derry Corner. A group of marchers broke through barricades and attacked British soldiers with stones and other objects.
British soldiers responded by pushing into the Catholic Bogside area, where the march was continuing in peace. They began firing into the crowd and chased fleeing marchers down side streets. After about a half hour of shooting, 13 people were dead and another 13 were injured; a 14th person would die from his injuries months later.

Soldiers said that they reacted to the threat of Irish Republican Army gunmen, but nearly all eyewitnesses—including British and Irish Protestants—said that they fired into a crowd of unarmed marchers. A British government inquiry, headed by Lord Widgery, was completed in April 1972; it supported the soldiers’ accounts. The Catholic community was outraged by the inquiry and considered it to be a whitewash.
 
In 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Lord Saville would lead a second inquiry, which opened in 2000. Over the next five years, it heard from 922 witnesses, including British soldiers and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who admitted to being second in command in the IRA’s Derry Brigade. It also examined 2,500 witness statements, 121 audio tapes, 110 video tapes and written evidence containing an estimated 20 million-30 million words, according to the BBC.

Reference: Inquiry documents

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