Friday, 18 June 2010

Bloody Sunday: unanswered questions

Well, I didn't intend to write anything more about Bloody Sunday, but I found that I couldn't get it out of my mind. For a start, I was fascinated that while freedom-loving bloggers like Daniel Hannan and Raedwald and Blue Eyes, generally considered to be well to the right of centre, welcomed the conclusions of the Saville Report, most right-of-centre people (i.e. the ones who post comments on Daily Telegraph blogs) really didn't like it. Mr. Hannan didn't seem to be very popular with his regular readers.

So I started reading the report's summary of the events of the day. (Yes, I know. I said that I wasn't going to study it closely. But I paid for it. And if I pay for something, I want my money's worth.)

The report seemed to me to be fair and balanced - unlike Wikipedia's articles on subjects related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. (Is it just me, or are Wikipedia articles on politically contentious subjects often biassed?)

Anyway, the Saville Report made interesting, if depressing, reading. Paragraph I.2.6 for example:
The situation in Londonderry in January 1972 was serious. By this stage the nationalist community had largely turned against the soldiers, many believing that the Army, as well as the RUC, were agents of an oppressive regime. Parts of the city to the west of the Foyle lay in ruins, as the result of the activities of the IRA and of rioting young men (some members of the IRA or its junior wing, the Fianna) known to soldiers and some others as the “Derry Young Hooligans”. A large part of the nationalist area of the city was a “no go” area, which was dominated by the IRA, where ordinary policing could not be conducted and where even the Army ventured only by using large numbers of soldiers.
In other words, the city was being slowly destroyed. Which, I suppose meant that the police and the army couldn't stand back and do nothing. But they were also viewed as agents of an oppressive regime, so anything they tried to do was likely to further inflame feelings.

Could things have been different? Well, just suppose that libertarian principles had been used in governing Northern Ireland. For example, the Libertarian Party manifesto calls for "Chief Constables to be locally elected, and given a large amount of autonomy." (Would much of the city have been a "no go" area for the police if the Chief Constable of the city of Londonderry in 1972 had been elected by the people of that city?) The LPUK manifesto also affirms the 9 Peelian principles of policing. Go and read them. If they had been adhered to, the situation on the ground in Stroke City would have been very different that day.

Another bit of the report that struck me was paragraph I.4.3:
In our view the organisers of the civil rights march bear no responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday. Although those who organised the march must have realised that there was probably going to be trouble from rioters, they had no reason to believe and did not believe that this was likely to result in death or injury from unjustified firing by soldiers.
The march had been banned. The organisers of the march - the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) - decided however, to go ahead, knowing that there would probably be trouble, and that a number of people who would participate in the march would be looking for trouble. So they expected trouble - and must bear some responsibility for it. Nevertheless, they can hardly be blamed in any way for the deaths that took place. However, I found myself wishing that they had never bothered organising the march.

BUT. The banning of the march was an infringement of freedom of association. (All marches in Northern Ireland were banned by the government at that time - IV.2.8 - and it's not difficult to see why the government had done so.)

And the march was to protest against internment without trial, which had been introduced the previous August. And internment without trial was (and is) a breach of the ancient liberty given by the writ of Habeas Corpus. (It's all a bit like the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005). And furthermore, it was widely believed (correctly) that many of those who were interned without trial had no involvement in the violence, and (again, correctly) that some of those who were interned without trial were being mistreated by the security forces. To make matters worse, the interned were "almost without exception Catholics from the nationalist community." (IV.2.10) In other words, the government was not acting according to libertarian principles, to put it mildly. With the result that many nationalists had come to the conclusion that the state was not their friend.

But there is something else about the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association that is important. Why were they so angry? What were the grievances of the nationalist community? One of the great grievances was the allocation of council housing. That was the issue that brought about the first civil rights march, which took place in August 1968. That march was sparked by the allocation of a council house in the village of Caledon to a teenage Protestant single girl. Catholics were understandably incensed that she had been given priority over Catholic families.

And at this point, the libertarian in me says "You see what happens when politicians and their appointees start deciding who gets housing?" If only the state had not taken away the money of Catholic taxpayers to build these houses. If they had allowed the Catholic taxpayers of Caledon to keep their money, they could have used it to start their own housing association and build their own houses and decide themselves who should be housed in them. But it was not to be, because Northern Ireland was not a libertarian state. If only the founding fathers of the Northern Irish state had been staunch minarchists, none of this would ever have happened.

Oh, and the unanswered questions about Bloody Sunday? Well, the rest of you probably all thinking about Martin McGuinness. But I'm not. History is not just about politicians and soldiers and movers and shakers. It's also about ordinary, rather apolitical people. What was Bloody Sunday like for them?

On the afternoon of Sunday 30th January, Colonel Derek Wilford, the Parachute Regiment's top officer on the ground, had taken up a position close to Great James Street Presbyterian Church. One of the first shots fired that Sunday afternoon, by a member of the Official IRA, actually hit a drainpipe running down the side of the church building.

My curiosity is about how this affected ordinary people going to that church that Sunday. What was the morning service at Great James Street Presbyterian Church like that morning - just 4 or 5 hours before the shootings occurred? Was there an atmosphere of foreboding because of the planned march? Did people stay away? Or were things fairly normal? And would I be right in thinking that the evening service was cancelled that day?

Those are the questions I want to know the answers to.

1 comment:

indigomyth said...

Don't worry, I won't hi-jack this one. Just wanted to say I agree with you.