Bloody Sunday - 30 Years After The Massacre

JOHN DOLAN reviews the recent TV dramatisation, for The Socialist, 25th Jan. 2002

FILMED IN documentary style, Bloody Sunday, ITV's excellent drama of the events of 30 January 1972 in Derry was a powerful and moving portrayal of that tragic day.

The First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment are clearly shown as soldiers indiscriminately murdering unarmed Civil Rights demonstrators, on orders from the very tops of the British state.

The film focused on a relatively minor character, "moderate" civil rights supporter and then Derry MP Ivan Cooper. But it also showed the pitfalls for young Derry Catholics. One victim of Bloody Sunday highlighted in this drama got caught up in the practice of stoning the hated British Army, and in consequence spent time in prison.

In a humiliation for the British Army, Bogside and Creggan in Derry had been no-go areas to the British state for six months prior to Bloody Sunday.

Two policemen were shot on the Thursday beforehand and with the Paras coming to the end of their tour in Northern Ireland, the conditions were laid for carrying out the British government's and Army tops' wish to "end this Londonderry rebellion".

The Paras are shown to have the attitude: "Where were the civil rights for the dead policemen?" and "They're are all the enemy" (i.e. all the demonstrators).

Officially, army strategy was to separate a group of regular stone-throwing youths, the 'Derry Young Hooligans', from the civil rights march to be arrested ('scooped up') by the Paras. The Paras' presence for this ostensibly routine task showed clearly what the British state intended.

While the British Army geared up for an offensive, civil rights marchers were determined to have a peaceful protest. On the morning of the march, the demonstrators tried to avoid confrontation by changing the route of the officially illegal march to avoid British Army barriers.

The IRA, both Provisional and Official wings, had been told to keep their arms away from the march. The IRA had a presence in the area, but not on the march itself.

Soon after the march set off, the Paras were shown pointing their rifles at the demonstrators from a vantage point, in a clearly provocative fashion.

As the march turned a corner for the new route, avoiding the original left turn which led to the British Army barrier, a group of mainly young demonstrators began stoning the British. First the water cannon was turned on these demonstrators, followed by rubber bullets and then CS gas.

Shot in the back

THE PARAS were shown champing at the bit, itching for the order for action. The officer who gave them this order was portrayed as someone who genuinely thought they intended to 'scoop up' the 'Young Hooligans'. The more senior army figures knew what was going to happen but weren't on record as giving the order.

The section of the drama with the shootings is chaotic, brutal, moving and shocking. It is unclear who fired the first shot, but after it hit a demonstrator, the protesters became more incensed. Some of the IRA figures begin to move into nearby flats. Another IRA gunman emerges brandishing a pistol, but marchers stop him.

What happened has often been described, in words and photos. Unarmed demonstrators were shot in the back; shot while waving a white handkerchief when going to someone else's assistance; shot while trying to escape the gunfire by crawling away on their stomachs.

These murders were portrayed accurately, with the panic, confusion, fear and anger of the demonstrators captured in a way that text and photographs can't match. 13 demonstrators were murdered on Bloody Sunday, with one of the 14 wounded dying later.

The British Army and the Paras immediately started a propaganda war. They initially claimed they had had "ten or twenty" rounds fired at them before returning three rounds of fire. A dead demonstrator had a nail bomb planted on him.

Afterwards the army claimed "law and order has increased tonight." In fact young Derry Catholics, who before Bloody Sunday would not have got involved with the IRA, were literally queuing to join them afterwards due to the Paras' brutal role.

Ivan Cooper later told a press conference: "The IRA had been given its biggest victory. You will reap the whirlwind." In fact the ordinary people of Northern Ireland suffered over 3,000 deaths in 'the Troubles'.

Bloody Sunday was the culmination of vicious repressive measures used against the Catholic population of Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. This film showed once more that they made the situation many times worse.

Other articles on Bloody Sunday

This series of articles on Northern Ireland from our archives
are available here.

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