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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 66/No.7February 18, 2002

 
lead article
30,000 in Derry demand
justice in British massacre
Workers, youth oppose anti-Catholic violence
Photo - see caption below
Part of a throng of workers, youth, and other marchers in Derry, Northern Ireland, for 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In 1972, British troops opened fire on a civil rights march killing 14. A fight to expose British imperialismīs cover-up has been waged by Irish freedom fighters ever since. Some called this yearīs march the largest ever.
BY JULIE CRAWFORD
DERRY, Northern Ireland--In what many called the largest march ever held here to demand justice for the massacre of 14 Irish freedom fighters by British troops in 1972, at least 30,000 people took to the streets in a show of strength February 3.

Workers, youth, and people of all generations took the cold, damp weather in stride as they traced the route of the civil rights marchers three decades ago January 30. They rallied at the spot where British paratroopers opened fire on the action, killing 14 and wounding many more. The 1972 march was called to oppose the internment without trial of thousands of civil rights and republican activists by Britain in August 1971.

Ever since, the fight to expose the responsibility of British imperialism for the assault, break the whitewash of the events organized by London, and clear the names of those killed has been intertwined with the battle to get the British out of Northern Ireland altogether. London has kept Ireland divided and claimed the northern six counties as part of the United Kingdom. Since late 1969 British imperialism has militarily occupied the north, imposing a reign of terror on the Catholic population.

Rally chairman Eamonn McCann described the event as "the greatest gathering of people" ever witnessed in Derry. The featured speakers at the rally included Alex Attwood of the reformist Social Democratic Labor Party; Geraldine Doherty, of the Bloody Sunday Relatives, whose uncle Gerard Donaghy was killed by the British; and Gerry Kelly, the vice president of Sinn Fein, the political party that is leading opposition to British rule in Northern Ireland. McCann, one of the leaders of the 1972 march, chaired the rally and gave a concluding address.

"Bloody Sunday was planned...to terrorize the Nationalist and Republican people," Kelly told the rally. "It was designed to intimidate us...to abandon our quest for civil rights and national rights."

McCann said, "We have come a long way...the shining goal of justice for the Bloody Sunday dead is now in sight. The Bloody Sunday march has come to represent all those who suffer under imperialism and oppression all around the world. In winning justice we will win something for oppressed people from all parts of the earth." The official theme of this year's march was "One World, Many Struggles," to point to the connections with other countries fighting against imperialism.

The march was led by a contingent carrying photos and crosses bearing the names of their relatives killed by the British troops. They were followed by Republican bands, contingents protesting police collusion with right-wing death squads, Sinn Fein youth and party branches, and solidarity groups from the United Kingdom, the United States, the Basque country, Italy, and Germany.

Thousands at the march came from other parts of Ireland, including the Irish Republic. People filled three coaches from Galloway in the west of Ireland. Kerrill Qualter was on one of them. He said, "I am a republican and the united Ireland I fight for will follow as we fight for equal rights." Robert Duffy came on one of 20 coaches from Belfast. He had taken part in rallies to support parents at the Holy Cross school, where rightist thugs were attempting to prevent Catholic school children from entering the school by the front door.

The rear of the march was brought up by a several-thousand-strong contingent from the Derry Trades Union Council. The participation of trade union members in organized contingents was bolstered by the recent union mobilization against right-wing, anti-Catholic violence.

As part of a half-day strike by postal workers January 18 to protest the murder of a Catholic letter carrier by pro-British rightists and death threats against Catholic school teachers, local trade union activists say they organized a rally of 10,000 workers at the town. On February 4 postal workers walked out again after a phone called named a Catholic postman and warned him not to enter the predominantly Protestant Waterside. The workers refused to return to the jobs until the pro-British Ulster Defense Association issued a statement denying association with the threat. A mass meeting was organized for postal workers to hear the statement.

The week leading up to the action featured fund-raising concerts, panels on police brutality against immigrants, a concert by Christie Moore, and a television premiere of two movies, "Bloody Sunday" and "Sunday," depicting the events of 1972.

The mobilization over the past months, as well as progress in the fight to expose the British government's responsibility for the 1972 massacre, helped ensure the massive turnout for the anniversary march this year.

With the advance of the Irish freedom struggle, and pressure from the campaign to demand justice in the case, the British government under Labour prime minister Anthony Blair agreed in 1998 to a new inquiry into the killing. A previous hearing, called the Widgery Commission, was part of a government cover-up. It sought to clear the soldiers, officers, and London of any wrongdoing, while placing the blame for the murderous assault on the Irish freedom fighters. The commission hearings, headed by British judge Lord Saville, began last November.

The Saville tribunal has been holding hearings here, and taking testimony from eyewitnesses. Many say they feel as if they are being prosecuted while testifying, but the crowd was clearly determined to continue the fight until the truth comes out.

Tony Doherty, whose father was killed on Bloody Sunday, said that for the families of those killed, testifying at the tribunal "is a horrible experience. But we need a sense of achievement. We forced the British government to admit the original inquiry was a whitewash. We disagree with the inquiry moving to Britain but now it is going, we will go too and call to those in Britain who believe in truth and justice to join us."

Among other events, a memorial service held January 30 was attended by more than 1,000 people. At another meeting a week before in London, Sinn Fein councilor Gerry O'Hara noted that one of the British army barracks in Derry was due to be closed by the British, calling it "a step forward." He noted that pro-British forces are protesting the job losses of 165 jobs at the barracks. He said Sinn Fein is "in favor of the best possible redundancy terms for those workers. But the barracks must close."

Following the Derry memorial service, Bogside resident Mickey Roddy pointed to the three army watch towers that look into the Bogside. "One of the barracks may close and the British troops are no longer on the streets, but they're still spying on us. They have watched this service. For the British to withdraw completely in one go would be like surrender," he said. "They won't do that, but eventually they will go."

Reflecting the determination of the relatives to press the fight for justice, Liam Wray, whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday, said, "If the Saville Inquiry doesn't deliver the goods we will be here for another 30 years."

Paul Davies, Rafael Ayala, and Roy Inglee contributed to this article.
 
 
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