Activism British Style

As a long time activist for Amnesty International, I’m no stranger to attending public events designed to draw attention to human rights. Whether it’s campaigning for a Turkish journalist imprisoned for writing an article critical of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or campaigning for Argentinian women to be given the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare, I’ve done it all.

Last week I took to the streets of London in a march targeting the US President Donald Trump. Unlike some there, I didn’t want to see the visit postponed. Like it or not, he is the democratically elected leader of the USA. He has the right to come here, but so have I to demonstrate against everything he represents.

Some say activists are a special breed. We spend hours, days, months, and even years campaigning on something. It can be a frustrating exercise when there doesn’t seem to be any success in sight. That’s why a sense of humour and a thick skin helps.

These qualities were very much in evidence in the anti-Trump march, but with a British twist. The British sense of humour is often understated, cutting, and anarchic; often all at the same time. Take these as an example:

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Has Irish Catholicism lost the knack?

Yesterday’s referendum on repealing the 8th amendment of the Irish Constitution may not be a watershed moment in Irish history, but it does say a lot about how we Irish want the country to look like in the 21st century. For decades Ireland had some of the most socially conservative laws in the world.

But why was that? To answer that, we need to look back around a hundred years.

The Ireland of 1918 was a very different to that of today. It was still ruled from London. There wasn’t a split between the 26 counties of Ireland (The Irish Free State – later to become the Republic of Ireland and then just Ireland) and the six counties (Northern Ireland) until the Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified by the Irish Government (The Dáil) in 1922.

Gaining independence from the United Kingdom wasn’t quite as straight forward though. There was a sizable minority who felt there should be no independence deal, unless all 32 counties of Ireland were included. The non-acceptance of the split between the north and south was a major factor is the year long civil war. This ideal of a united Ireland is something that colours Irish politics to this day.

With the major fighting over in 1923, the Dáil started to build a country from a broken, impoverished state. Less than a century before, the country was ravaged by several famines. Many left Ireland for other shores. In the early 20th century, the continued independence struggle had taken its toll on the country’s infrastructure. The stand out conflict was the 1916 Easter Uprising, but even before then there was guerrilla action. After World War One, the IRA saw their chance and started the Irish War of Independence which ultimately lead to Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The first Dáil had a real issue. How do they rebuild a country, when there isn’t a lot of money. Thanks to the Catholic Church, which had suffered none of the financial upheaval, they were able to make a start. The quid quo pro was the cultivation of a one-dimensional type of nationality, culture and religion. In particular the Catholic Church was able to use the education system to foster this. To this day the majority of Irish schools are Catholic schools, run and largely funded by the church.

Roll on 50 years or so, and a series of scandals rocked the Catholic Church, and none more so than in Ireland. For the first time in a long while, Irish Catholics started to question the legitimacy of their faith. A growing number of couples couldn’t remarry after ending previous relationships. Divorce only became legal after the 15th constitutional amendment in 1995.

As the Celtic Tiger moved into the 20th century, the spotlight was shone on Ireland and the world liked what they saw. An young, educated, and hard working population seized their chance and made hay whilst the sun shone. Whilst the scandals certainly affected the association many had with the Catholic Church, so did this sudden feeling of financial and social independence.

The vote to allow abortion in Ireland up to 12 weeks pregnancy, is the latest in a line of revolts against the Catholic church’s stance on issues like divorce and homosexuality.

Perhaps the most telling of all is the Catholic Church’s own faith survey. The 2016 survey showed that whilst 78% still identified as Catholic, this is over 13% down on the 1991 survey. Furthermore less than half of Irish Catholics attended mass at least one a week, down from 81% in 1990. The fact that the Catholic Church’s doctrine describes this as a mortal sin, meaning the individual is likely to end up in hell unless they repent, seems not to worry most folk.

Whilst the education system may still be largely run by faith organisations, it is clear their influence is waning. So is the pull of the traditional faith system of attending services. The end result is a population unable or unwilling to hear a religion’s theological teaching.

Last Friday, the Irish nation said to the world it was no longer accepting of the past. It wants to be a modern, progressive society. It may still want to be identified as Catholic, but not in the same manner as before.

Could this have been prevented? Maybe. The current Pope seems to be the church’s best chance of progressing its theology, but that’s a big ask. If Pope Frances had arrived 30-40 years ago, he would have a better chance of making real theological chance, but then he wouldn’t have been elected back then. The Catholic Church can appear to be like a super tanker trying to turn around in the middle of the Suez Canal. The Catholic Church clearly hasn’t kept up with the times, and maybe has paid the price.

Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe: Should we do more to help her?

The case of Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe is a distressing one. Nazanin, a dual British-Iranian citizen, was arrested in Tehrain in April 2016 along with her one year old daughter. She was visiting her parents, to allow them to see her daughter for the first time. Accused of spying, something she denies, resulted in a five year jail sentence. The incarceration is bad enough for Nazanin, but its affect must be brutal for her daughter whose not seen her Mother or Father for two years. There are reports that Nazanin’s physical and mental health are severely affected.

Nazanin

Back in the UK, her husband heads a campaign for her release. He’s lobbied the UK Government with only limited success. Even just getting access to Nazanin by telephone has taken a gargantuan effort. Her parents rarely are allowed to visit, and her daughter’s British passport has been confiscated. This means she too is trapped in Iran unable to leave, effectively a hostage. Whatever the charges proven or unproven against her Mother, not allowing a young child to return to the land of her birth is barbarous.

Just this week there are reports of new charges being placed on Nazanin. This isn’t uncommon in Iran, but in Nazanin’s case each step forward seems to result in two steps back. It is a shocking case of human’s being used as a political football in a wider geo-political power game.

The UK Government has raised her case with the Iranian authorities. Our Foreign Secretary has visited Tehran and mentioned her case there, even if his attempts appeared cack handed. Quite what was said is open to conjecture, as Nazanin’s husband was refused a visa to join in. The UK Ambassador backed a recent request for Nazanin to be temporarily released for her daughter’s fourth birthday. Our Government says it is doing “everything possible” to bring Nazanin home.

That’s diplomatic language. Could they do more? Yes of course. Would that be wise? That depends on your viewpoint.

The real sadness of this case is the lack of communication, at least in public, between the Iranian and UK Governments. The relationship has been fractious for a long time, and doesn’t show signs of improving any time soon. There may well be diplomatic efforts being made behind the scenes, but the wider context of trade and Middle Eastern politics often seem to get in the way. Nazanin’s case just don’t hold the same importance as the Syrian Civil War or Israel and Palestine to the great and the good of both countries. Oh and let’s not forget that Iran is involved in a proxy war in both those places.

Reading about Nazanin’s case, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking it is a hopeless struggle. The Iranians won’t budge, so why waste your time with it. To anyone thinking like that, I’d ask them to think about the last time they were treated unfairly. Did they just accept the injustice? More likely they spoke out and tried to change things. If we all just accepted the status quo, the world would be anarchic with egotistical maniacs reeking havoc on us poor mortals.

Maybe you feel that keeping the Iranians “on side” is more important than one woman’s freedom. I believe it is not an either or option. We can ensure they keep to their international obligations AND free a woman who clearly hasn’t committed any crime.

So if you want to help Nazanin and her family, just do one thing. Go to http://freenazanin.com/, click on the “How You Can Help” link and take action.

Go on, do it now before you forget. Thank you.

Am I an anti-Semite?

anti_semite

There’s a convenient line of attack, that if you’re anti-Israeli, you’re by definition anti Jewish. I’m neither, but I have a big problem with that line of defence. It is like saying that because you hate crunchy peanut butter, you hate all nuts. What really bothers me though, is how effective that argument is. Such a head on attack dog strategy, deflects the argument onto ground where the accuser has to be defensive. In doing so, the original argument’s credibility is weakened and diluted.

You may wonder what the answer is to the Israel and Palestine issue. It’s become so polarised that anyone speaking out against Israel is immediately pounced on as anti-Jewish or anti-Israel. Side with the Palestinians and you’re accused of undermining international law.

The recent violence in Gaza is a case in point. Any minor event is likely to raise tensions, but the official opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem was anything but minor. The move of the US administration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and moving their Embassy from Tel Aviv, was bound to inflame deep seated grievances.

The violence followed a well trodden path. Crowds of young Palestinians gather and throw rocks at members of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The IDF respond initially with tear gas, followed by live ammunition. The IDF say they came under gunfire. Whilst this hasn’t been verified, there may well have been Hamas fighters nearby. I’d expect a country to defend itself from external aggression, but in this case it is less clear who’s country needs defending. A bigger question is, was the IDF’s response disproportionate?

This flash point originated because of the US administration’s de facto approval of the whole of Jerusalem being Israel’s capital. Prior to 1967 Jerusalem was divided into East Jerusalem under Palestinian control, and West Jerusalem under Israeli control. It was an uneasy peace, but by invading and annexing the east side of the city in 1967, Israel lit the blue touch paper of the largest firework ever to be seen in the region.

East Jerusalem still isn’t recognised as part of Israel under international law. Throw in the treatment of Palestinians both in East Jerusalem and Gaza, plus the unlawful building of Israeli settlements, and Israel has a lot to answer for. As for Hamas, it is a terrorist organisation in the eyes of many countries. It is also backed by states with good reasons for seeing Israel’s demise.

Perhaps unwisely, I believe that a two state solution is the only way of allowing the Palestinians and Israeli’s to live side by side. In order to achieve this, Israel must accept they’ll have to give back East Jerusalem. As unpalatable as this may be. That isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The settlements built in East Jerusalem for Israelis is a major issue. So is how the border between East and West Jerusalem would be policed. As for whether Hamas and their backers would accept the status quo and cease their claim to all of Palestine, including all of Israel?

I never said solving the Israel versus Palestine issue was easy.

Should sporting celebrities be political?

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

Such sentences underline the difficulties when determining what is acceptable to say when it comes to topics that are even vaguely political. Of course there are clear cut cases where it is unacceptable. For example, any sportsperson supporting holy jihad. But when it comes to less clear cut cases, where should the line be drawn?

There have been numerous cases of sportsmen and women falling foul of their sporting authority’s rules. Recent cases that spring to mind include:

  • Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was fined for wearing a “No. 40 decal” on his helmet to honour former Arizona Cardinals teammate Pat Tillman who was killed in Iraq. See this Outside the Beltway blog post.
  • The English Football Association was fined £35000 by FIFA after the England squad wore shirts with the annual British Legion poppy symbol.  See this See Independent Newspaper article.
  • Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, formally manager of Barcelona, has been charged by the English FA for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of imprisoned Catalan politicians. See this BBC Website story.

In the modern big money world of branding, you can understand why sporting bodies get all hot under the collar when people don’t stay on message, but is that acceptable?

You could argue that straying off message is not only against the rules, but also is direct defiance of your employment contract. I’m sure most of us who are employed could find something we dislike about our employer’s ethical, environmental, or personnel policies. But most of us choose to ignore these policies and keep quiet. Whether this is for fear of being disciplined, or just that it’s not such a big deal is irrelevant. By not doing anything, we acquiesce to our employer’s views. If we stick our head above the parapet, we must expect some push back. We’re disobeying their rules after all, whether we like it or not. If we continue to disobey the rules, we must expect the ultimate sanction to be a disciplinary case resulting in dismissal.

So should a sporting celebrity by allowed to speak out? Of course. I’d defend that to the hilt. The real issue is whether they’d do so, if they were to lose their income, fame, and livelihood as a result. Some would no doubt, but I’d suggest that in all the cases above, they know that any fine is small enough to not really matter in the long run. That’s OK too. It gives both sides a win-win. One side can speak out when they feel strongly about something, and the other can cry foul and demand retribution in the form of a small financial slap on the wrist.

Is it time to reverse the Second Amendment?

It’s easy for a country whose constitution doesn’t explicitly state a citizen’s right to bear arms, to criticise another where it does. We get accused of outside interference or not “getting it”. The point is though that without interference, the status quo won’t change. And if the status quo remains, the cycle of mass shootings followed by indignation continues.

The US Constitution has changed 27 times since it was ratified in 1787. Ten amendments were made in 1791 which became known as the Bill of Rights, effectively outlining the rights of every US citizen. The second amendment gives the right to bear arms. The other 17 amendments include some pretty important amendments: the abolition of slavery (1865) and a women’s right to vote (1920) are two that spring to mind. The 21st amendment overturned the ill thought out 18th on prohibition. There’s a few procedural amendments, like changing the way a President is elected or the amount Congressmen get paid.

So what does it take to get the constitution changed? The 25th amendment describes what happens if a President or Vice President dies or resigns, more than likely as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. His death left a judiciary wondering if Vice President Lyndon Johnson had a legal right to succeed. In practical turns though, an amendment can be written by Congress and passed by a simple two thirds majority. State governments can also call a convention to pass changes, although this hasn’t happened since 1787.

Congress is the key to a change, but only the prohibition change has ever been overturned. So could the right to bear arms do the same? Arguably as the second amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, it is more difficult. The key is the National Rifle Association (NRA). This lobby group is well funded, organised, and has the ear of a lot of congress men and women.

With each mass shooting, it is easy to say the NRA is mad not to change their attitude to gun control. They say it isn’t gun ownership that causes these mass casualties. I have some sympathy with this argument, but when anyone can go into a gun store and buy weapons with little or no checks, something is wrong. There is no perfect solution, as mass shootings have demonstrated here in the UK. But when the NRA refuses to even acknowledge that gun ownership is even a small part of the overall problem, you need to speak out.

Wanting regulation doesn’t mean you’re against the second amendment. In the same way the US wouldn’t allow anyone with a serious mental illness to join the army, or allow someone with a history of heart attacks to fly a 747, you shouldn’t allow someone with mental illness to buy a semi automatic machine gun. Yes the literal interpretation of the second amendment is everyone has the right regardless of who they are or what their medical history is. By that logic the first amendment (freedom of speech) allows citizens to say whatever they like, even if it preaches hate. Practically though if I was a US citizen and demand jihad against western targets, I’m sure that right to speak would be challenged.

Unfortunately I’m not hopeful of a change to the US constitution anytime soon. It could happen in the future though. It may take a brave politician to take the NRA lobby on. If they do, there’s a chance.

Think again before cancelling that DD

The recent exposure of Oxfam staff in Haiti using the services of prostitutes is disturbing, but maybe not for the reasons most expect. You can question the charity’s procedures when dealing with the issue, and definitely when dealing with the media once the story broke. That’s not to say the men weren’t wrong to act like they did. As one of the world’s leading relief agencies, the staff must have known how women are trafficked or forced into prostitution. Then there’s the mental and physical scars working in the profession can have, sometimes lasting many years. Those Oxfam staff involved were right to be disciplined.

Some will say that prostitution isn’t illegal. That may be true in many countries, but not in Haiti. There are also allegations that some of the women “used” were under age. Some illegal activity  has taken place. The fact that prostitution is illegal but accepted as a norm in some countries makes no difference. It may be seen as a way for women to make a scant living, but when doing so risks their very being it is wrong on so many levels. It’s still against the law and those found breaking it should be brought to justice.

The danger of this tragic episode is that many will see this as an opportunity to withdraw financial support from Oxfam, and perhaps other charities by association. And all this at a time when many charities face funding decisions that are the difference between life and death. If that happens it will be tragic, but also misguided.

Why?

For a start there is no evidence that Oxfam directly paid the prostitutes. This was the men acting as individuals. Admittedly they were paying for services with their Oxfam wages, but that’s not sufficient case to chastise the charity. If I worked for the International Vegan Rights Alliance, but decided to buy a burger from McDonalds, that up to me.

For me the issue we should be debating is how charities like Oxfam educate their staff about what is acceptable, and ensure robust procedures are in place to deal with staff who digress. The disturbing thing about this case, is how a group of men responsible for providing relief in one of the poorest countries on this planet, thought even for a second, that it’s acceptable to act the way they did. Oxfam should make it crystal clear what is acceptable to staff, and have procedures in place to quickly and effectively investigate cases where employees are suspected of digressing.

This case raises certain questions:

  • The allegations against the main culprit, their Country Director, were known before he was sent to Haiti. In fact there were concerns he was using prostitutes whilst stationed in Chad.
    Why was it thought acceptable to assign him to another country?
  • The Country Director apparently used a Haitian villa provided to him by Oxfam to meet the prostitutes. Such a flagrant misuse of Oxfam’s facilities must have raised eyebrows, yet this all happened in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
    How come this continued for several years despite rumours of such activities by Oxfam’s own staff on the ground?
  • Finally Oxfam have admitted that the use of prostitutes wasn’t “explicitly contrary” to their code of conduct.
    It should have been. Why wasn’t it?

One thing is for sure: Oxfam’s procedures were found wanting. These have started to be addressed, but it’s too late for those involved and the adverse publicity created. There will be those who withdraw financial support as a result. Perhaps that’s understandable.

My issue here is that the charity does fantastic work around the world. It provides help to millions of people when they need it most. Whether they are refugees fleeing from war, a province dealing with a natural disaster, or a country dealing with famine. Oxfam and other charities provide the basics of human life. They provide shelter and food, and care for the sick and dying. They also campaign to get the status quo changed.

All of this takes money. It is understandable for those funding Oxfam to question what they knew about this affair, and what changes they’ve made to ensure it doesn’t occur again. However the money is needed. So if you’re thinking of cancelling that monthly Direct Debit, think again.

Women’s suffrage: The seminal human rights struggle

6th February 1918 saw a bill passed in the UK parliament that brought some women the vote. Women’s suffrage had won the battle, but not the war. It was a seminal moment, and sent a signal that the status quo must change. The pressure that brought about the change didn’t happen overnight. It had taken decades to achieve, and would another ten years before true suffrage equality would be realised.

Fighting for your, or someone else’s, rights isn’t easy. It takes time and perseverance. You win some battles, and you lose some. But during the bad times it is important to remember that what is right always wins in the end.

It would take more struggle to get equal voting rights for women. The 1918 bill only gave women over 30 the vote. Even then only if they owned property, we’re married to someone who owned property, and rented somewhere costing over £5 a year, a sizeable amount back then. It would take another ten years for women to have the same voting rights as men.

Yet women’s suffrage is not something that only happened in the Edwardian era. That is what historians focus on, but it had been happening for a lot longer. In England, one of the earliest groups fighting for votes for women was in the mid 19th century.

Even after 1928 and equal voting rights, it would take until 1958 for women to be allowed into the UK Parliament’s upper house. It took the case of Margaret Haig Thomas, Viscountess Rhondda, the daughter of Viscount Rhondda, to right that injustice. She was barred from entering the House of Lords on her fathers death. He had no sons he hadn’t made a special request for her daughter to be able to take his title after he died.

Such clear discrimination based solely on a person’s sex seems ridiculous now, but the fight for equal women’s rights is far from over. The parallels between women’s suffrage and the recent “me too” campaign is striking. So too are the campaigns for issues like female genital mutilation (FGM) and abortion. If you thought these were issues that only affected countries other than the UK, think again.

Women’s struggle to be considered equal is ongoing. Yes it is a lot better than it was, but there’s a way to go yet. Campaigning on an issue takes guts and perseverance. It requires you to get up when you’re knocked down, dust yourself off, and go again. Perhaps it’s a thin line between one person’s freedom fighter and another’s terrorist, but ultimately you have to decide if an issue is worth campaigning for. Few would deny that women’s suffrage is an issue that should have been sorted earlier, but it took a long time to achieve.

A favour for Taner Kiliç

If you do nothing else this weekend, do this. Take action to free Taer Kiliç from a Turkish cell. You can do so here. I don’t care if you’re a friend, acquaintance, or just someone whose stumbled by this blog. It doesn’t cost you anything, and you’ll have a feeling of having done something positive afterwards.

Here’s why

Taner is the Chair of Turkish Section of Amnesty International. He was detained in the early hours of 6 June 2017, along with 22 others, on suspicion of involvement with what the authorities are calling a “terrorist organisation”, Fethullah Gülen. Shortly afterwards, he was charged with membership of the organisation and remanded in pre-trial detention.

Fethullah Gülen is a political organisation with very different views than Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Those views maybe contrary, but they are definitely not extreme. There’s no evidence that it has been involved in any terrorist activity.

What’s more the evidence that Taner Kiliç was a member of Fethullah Gülen is flimsy at best. The only claim that supposedly links Taner to the Gülen movement is that Bylock (a secure mobile messaging application that the authorities say was used by members of the group) was discovered on his phone in August 2014. He denies having downloaded it.

Didn’t I hear he’d been released?

Well yes. On 31 January a court in Istanbul ruled that Taner should be released on bail. However in an unprecedented move by the judiciary, the prosecutor appealed the decision. The end result was another court ordered him to be detained once more. So with his wife and family waiting to greet him outside prison, he was taken again to a nearby police station pending the appeal outcome.

Amnesty International’s UK Section Director Kate Allen said:

“The decision to rearrest my colleague Taner is a complete disgrace.”

“The court yesterday released him on bail because there was no evidence produced against him. Yet his rearrest raises more questions for the Turkish authorities to answer.”

“It is not Taner that is on trial, it is the Turkish justice system.”

“We will stand alongside Taner and his family, and we will continue our work until this travesty is brought to an end.”

It’s personal

Taner Kiliç is a lawyer and human rights defender whose brave work threatens Turkey’s oppressive regime. He is being targeted because of his work as Chair of Amnesty International Turkey.

I am a former Board member of the Amnesty International UK Section, and at one time considered standing for the position of Chair. Although I never applied for the role, I am well aware of what it takes to fulfill such a position. I deeply respect the work of human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and completely understand how easy it would be to undermine their work by doing something like the Turkish authorities suggest.

The post of AI UK Chair is a fortunate position. The holder doesn’t live in a country where the fear of ISIS or a Kurdish independent state results in an oppressive judicial system carrying  out the will from on high. They can go about their role without fear of arrest. In all my years of campaigning, the worst I’ve had is being filmed from inside the occasional embassy.

Take action……..now!

So please, do it! We can win this battle and get Taner back where he belongs; back with his family and protecting the rights of those who need them.

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/free-taner-kilic?from=issue

46 years on: Will we ever learn from Bloody Sunday?

If ever there was a place name that sums up the divide in Northern Ireland, it is the name of Ulster’s second city. Is it Derry or Londonderry? Officially it is Londonderry ever since King James I gave Derry a royal charter in 1613, but nationalists still refer to it as Derry. You can understand why.

Those divisions were brought into stark contrast on Sunday 30th January 1972, when the city witnessed one of the darkest days in recent Irish history. A day that started with hope and optimism, and ended with death and recriminations that continue to this day.

The civil rights movement that started in the late 1960s had planned a peaceful march from the Bogside outside the city walls into the city centre where a rally would be held. Although the march was well organised, it took place at a time of real tension and increased violence.

For anyone needing a reminder, one of the commonly quoted reasons for “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland, was the perception by many Catholics of discrimination in all walks of their life. Whilst this is true, the original civil rights movement was concerned with discrimination in the Protestant working classes too. A fact a leading member of the organising committee for the civil rights match on Bloody Sunday was a Protestant, Ivan Cooper, later a founder of the SDLP.

But hey, why let a few simple facts get in the way of history!

Anyone who has walked around the walls of Derry, will have seen “The Bogside”. It is the Catholic part of town outside the city walls, and largely consisting of poor housing. It was a perfect breeding ground for what became the Provisional IRA. So when the civil rights movement organised a march through this area, the British army were taking no chances. Among the reinforcements brought in was the 1st Parachute Regiment, well known for their uncompromising attitude. Army intelligence suggested the IRA would fire on the army, so they were prepared for trouble.

The march started peacefully enough from the Creggan estate, with 15,000 people marching to the city centre. The Army stopped the march, forcing the marchers down a different route and effectively barring them from leaving the Bogside. This is where the trouble started. Youths threw stones at the army, who initially responded with rubber bullets. This kind of confrontation was not uncommon in the early 1970s, as the Catholic population saw the army as preventing them from exercising their right to equality.

Enter the 1st Parachute Regiment. They were originally located outside the Bogside, but were sent in despite orders to the contrary by their commanding officer. Not known for their reserve, the Saville Inquiry found that the first shots were fired by them into the crowd of rioters. The Paras say they saw rioters holding weapons, although the evidence is inconclusive at best. By the end of the day 26 civilians were shot and 14 died. Not one of the deceased were found to have a weapon or evidence of having fired one. Some were even shot in the back running away from the soldiers. Others were shot whilst waving white handkerchiefs.

That day’s events were a watershed for Northern Ireland. It effectively signaled the end of the civil rights movement, and sharpened the already deep distrust between the communities. It also proved to be a major recruiting campaign for the Provos. IRA member Séanna Walsh said, “It was bedlam. Anyone who cared about anything was involved in some way. It was the situation I was in and as a young man I would say I had no choice.”

There were undoubtedly IRA members taking part in the march, but the march organisers were assured they’d be unarmed. There were also reports of one IRA member firing a revolver at the paratroopers, but this was after the initial shooting started. It is also proven that some soldiers colluded in changing their testimonies when initially giving evidence into to what happened. It is also clear that the Paras were looking for a fight, and according to Saville’s inquiry “lost control”.

Like most history, it is never simple. Within the context of 1972 Northern Ireland, there was blame on both sides. However the unsolicited killing of unarmed civilians is unacceptable. That there were so many that day, is a tragedy. 44 years on, and justice has still to be seen to be done. The Saville Inquiry put the blame squarely on the army, yet the individuals involved have escaped any charges.

Sunday 30th January 1972 has many parallels with Sunday 21 November 1920 during the War of Independence, not least that this is also known as Bloody Sunday. That day 14 unarmed civilians were killed when an armoured car entered the pitch at Croke Park, Dublin during a Gaelic football match and opened fire. Earlier that day the IRA assassinated 13 soldiers and police that they considered as informers.

A retaliatory event? Almost definitely. Such brutal events never address the real issue. It makes you wonder if we’ll ever learn.