On Sunday, January 30, progressive and republican sections across Ireland observed the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre which took place in the city of Derry in Northern Ireland in 1972. People of Derry along with the families of the martyrs of the Bloody Sunday massacre marched in the city to commemorate the 14 civilians who were shot dead on the streets by British soldiers 50 years ago. Contingents of various political groups including Sinn Fein, Communist Party of Ireland (CPI), Connolly Youth Movement (CYM), Workers Party of Ireland, and People Before Profit also joined the march in the city.
On January 30, 1972, during the conflict in Northern Ireland between the Irish Republican revolutionaries and the British forces, commonly referred to as the Troubles (1960-1990), British soldiers opened fire at unarmed civilians during a protest march organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in the Bogside area of Derry. In the firing by the notorious 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment of the British Army, 13 civilians were killed outright while one man died later after succumbing to injuries. Many others were also injured in the firing.
This massacre, which took place on the last Sunday of January that year, was marked in Irish history as Bloody Sunday. It sparked widespread outrage across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as progressives across the world. The same Parachute Regiment had earlier shot and killed 10 civilians in Ballymurphy, Belfast, in Northern Ireland in a raid on alleged members of the provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) between August 9-11, 1971.
Republican sections in Ireland and relatives of victims of the crimes committed by the British army have fought long legal and political battles to bring light to the atrocities of the British army during the ‘Troubles’ and to seek justice for the victims. Even after peace was restored in Northern Ireland through the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998, investigations into ‘Trouble era’ crimes by the British forces invoked much furor and controversies. In most of the cases, the British army tried to defend its actions by portraying the victims as armed militants from the provisional IRA who were attempting sabotage activities.
After decades-long ‘denials’ and ‘delays’ by the British authorities, the inquiry report by the Saville Commission, constituted in 1998, was published in 2010 and indicted the British troops for killing 13 protesters in the notorious Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry. Then UK prime minister David Cameron was forced to officially apologize in the House of Commons for the actions of the British troops.
On May 11, 2021, in a historic verdict, Justice Siobhan Keegan in Belfast declared that all the 10 victims killed by British paratroopers in the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre in Northern Ireland were innocent. The subsequent events have forced incumbent UK prime minister Boris Johnson to apologize in the House of Commons for the delays in ensuring justice to the victims.
Towards the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre, the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) issued a statement on January 29 saying, “Fifty years ago the British state carried out an organized and sanctioned attack on the anti-internment civil rights march in Derry organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, in which the CPI played a central role, helping to establish and build that mass movement of working people.”
It said that the “internment was the repressive response by unionism and the British state to the growing challenge flowing from popular resistance to defend nationalist areas from assault by sectarian forces of the Orange state (British controlled Northern Ireland) and from the rising civil rights movement demanding their rights against decades of repression, discrimination, and gerrymandering. The British and Orange state saw the resistance of the people and continued demands for civil rights as a direct challenge to the very existence of the British-imposed political settlement of 1922, which partitioned Ireland.”
Northern Ireland has historically been at the heart of the struggle for national liberation from British colonial rule in Ireland. While the Republic of Ireland was finally established in 1949 after decades-long armed rebellion led by the IRA, six counties in the North remained under British control as directed by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. This partitioned Ireland into two – the Catholic majority counties in the South (present day Irish Republic) and six counties in the North with a large population of Protestant settlers who wanted to maintain ties and union with Britain.