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Massacre at Derry, by Civil Rights Movement (nd, 1972)

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Text: Civil Rights Movement ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna

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Published by the Civil Rights Movement
to tell the world,
through the eyes of Derry citizens,
what happened in their city on
Sunday, January 30, 1972.

Massacre at Derry

Table of Contents

Policy of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association
Intent at Derry
What Fulvio Grimaldi Saw
The March
The Meeting
The Dead
The Wounded
When the News reached Long Kesh
What They Said
The Scene of Bloody Sunday -
A Sketch Map for Following the Widgery Tribunal


Derry differs from all other atrocities that have occurred to date in the struggle for civil rights and democracy in Northern Ireland. The 1969 attempted pogrom was not ordered or directed by the British Government. This massacre was.

That mass-murder took place in Derry on Sunday, January 30, 1972 is beyond doubt. There is no need for an inquiry into this fact. There were more than 30,000 eye-witnesses.

The only subject for inquiry is why and by what process the decision to engage in a massacre was taken. And, because the British Army murdered people of a different nationality in the interests of the British Government, any inquiry held must be international.

The establishment of the Widgery Inquiry was meant to inhibit publication of eyewitness accounts and comment, shield those responsible and hide from the world descriptions of the terrible slaughter of innocent defenceless people. In speeches announcing the establishment of the Inquiry both Mr. Reginald Maudling, the British Home Secretary, and Mr. Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister, publicly condoned the action of the British Army.

This pamphlet aims at telling the world, through the eyes of Derry citizens, what happened to thirteen of their number on Derry's Bloody Sunday.

It is important to understand fully what the British Government was trying to murder in Derry that Sunday. The bullets were aimed at 30,000 people - at the mass movement of the people mobilised in support of the Civil Rights demands.

The people marched in Derry to show their defiance in a peaceful manner against oppression. To hold a march is "illegal". To hold a meeting is "legal". To hold a meeting only is to capitulate to a whole series of laws which stretch across the statute book from the ludicrous ban on parades to internment under The Special Powers Act. To march, on the other hand, is to mobilise maximum public pressure against a law which epitomises every other repressive law.

Those marching in Derry that day were marching to open the gates of Concentration Camps, smash torture chambers, end repression and military terror. They were met with a new and terrible escalation of administrative violence.

To the list of intimidation, internment, torture and individual murders has now been added the holocaust in Derry.

Derry has taken its place with My Lai and Sharpeville as a milestone in the struggle of humanity against oppression. By this single act the British and Unionist Governments, Edward Heath, Brian Faulkner and Reginald Maudling have added their names to the annals of human infamy.

Undeterred by official Tory-Unionist malevolence the Civil Rights Movement is more determined than ever to press the demand for democracy.

The decision in the North is not that between a military victory for the I.R.A. on the one hand and the British Army on the other. Rather is it a choice between the achievement of full democratic rights for all citizens or a continuation of policies which foster sectarianism and are based on repression of large sections of the population.

The methods of the Civil Rights Association are mass action by an organised people in non-violent peaceful protest against terror: the enlisting of world opinion against the British and Unionist system of terror and repression.

Policy of The Northern Ireland
Civil Rights Association

Adopted at Annual General Meeting, February, 1972

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association will continue to campaign until we have achieved the objectives set when the Association was formed; a society in which every citizen will enjoy full civil rights and social justice. Despite the Downing Street Declaration and legislation passed at Stormont, the ordinary citizen has less freedom than at any time for the past 50 years.

The complete failure of the Stormont Administration to carry out the Downing Street Declaration, the refusal to repeal the Special Powers Act, and its increased use by the Military, UDR and RUC against anti-Unionists, the Falls Curfew, the one-sided arms searches, the shoot-to-kill policy in Catholic areas, the introduction of internment, the continuing torture of prisoners, and the present policy of terrorising and dragooning the whole anti-Unionist population has led to the final alienation of that population. This alienation is the direct result of the policies of the Westminster Government and Stormont Administration. The alienation has taken two forms: one, a violent response: one a non-violent response as exemplified by the Civil Disobedience Campaign.

The British Government and the N. Ireland administration are trying to obscure the Civil Disobedience campaign which has involved hundreds of thousands of people, by claiming the struggle is solely between the British Army and a handful of "terrorists". The reality which must be emphasised is that a whole community has totally rejected the Stormont system.

The Civil Disobedience Campaign will go on until our demands are met. The meeting of our demands will create a climate where peaceful politics are possible.

To create conditions in which talks can take place, the following demands must be met and the NICRA must be represented at such talks.

  1. The immediate release of aLl internees.
  2. The withdrawal of troops from all areas pending their total withdrawal, and an immediate end to the policy of military occupation and repression of anti-Unionist areas.
  3. Legislation by the Westminster Government to abolish the Special Powers Act in its entirety.
  4. The dismissal of the Stormont administration and immediate legislation at Westminster to guarantee the following:
      (a) Free elections under Proportional Representation.
      (b) The rights of all political groups including those opposed to the present state.
      (c) An end to discrimination.
      (d) A recognition that it is as legitimate to work for an independent and united Ireland as it is to work for the maintenance of the Union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain and the removal of all legislative obstacles in the Government of Ireland Acts that stand in the way of this objective.

We reiterate that the civil disobedience campaign will continue until talks on a political solution have reached a satisfactory conclusion.

The minimum acceptable outcome of these talks would be the ending of:

  1. The Public Order (Amendment) Act, the Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act, the Flags and Emblems Act, Payment of Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act and other repressive legislation.
  2. Discrimination in all forms of private and public employment and housing and the allocation of development capital.
  3. All elections to be held under P.R. with fair boundaries.
  4. The establishment of a civilian and impartial police force.
  5. A radical reform of the entire legal system, to include: the implementation of the idea of law as a community service available to all, and not a repressive agency used against some; the end to anti-working class and anti-feminist and political bias in the selection of jurors; the dismissal of all politically appointed judges; the immediate creation of an impartial public prosecutor's office, outside the control and influence of government.
  6. That the involvement of local organisations in deciding future policy for their area, as recommended by the McCrory Report should be real and meaningful.
  7. An amnesty for all political prisoners in British and Irish Jails.
  8. An amnesty for all illegally held guns and the disbandment of sectarian gun clubs.
  9. Those responsible for murdering innocent people, and torturing detainees and war crimes should be brought to trial.
  10. That the Westminster Government which bears an immense and overwhelming burden of guilt for its neglect of this area, and its unwillingness to take any action against the excesses of its subordinate Government at Stormont, make available the capital necessary to end unemployment, bad housing and the lack of community amenities.

We stress that our function is to secure basic human and civil rights for all of the people in this area, irrespective of their politics or religion. This could be attained by the adoption of an effective Bill of Rights by the Government in power.

Intent at Derry

What was the attitude of the Civil Rights Association to the Derry march? How did its attitude compare with that of Mr. Brian Faulkner and the Security Forces?

Two keynote statements were circulated to the media by the Civil Rights organisation prior to the Sunday march and meeting planned for Derry.

On Friday, January 28, two days prior to the Sunday demonstration, the following news release appeared on the front pages of both the "Derry Journal" and the "Irish News" - the two newspapers most read by the people of Derry. Under the heading "Organisers want big Derry rally incident free" the "Irish News" carried the statement:

"A meeting of stewards for Sunday's planned Civil Rights demonstration and rally at Guildhall Square, Derry, will be held at the Creggan Centre at 8.00 p.m. tonight. Stewards will receive final instructions from members of the N.I.C.R.A. executive, and be fully briefed on plans and tactics.

"Special emphasis will be placed on the absolute necessity for a peaceful incident free day on Sunday.

"Civil Rights Organiser, Mr. Kevin McCorry, has pointed out that Mr. Brian Faulkner and Mr. John Taylor are counting on an outbreak of violence to justify any British Army violence used on Sunday. Sunday would be 'make or break day' for the cause of Civil Rights and the release of internees.

"Any riot, any trouble, any incident, must be confined to members of the British Army. They disgraced themselves at Magilligan on Saturday last with their unprovoked savagery. Do not let them disgrace you, the city of Derry and the whole democratic cause, said Mr. McCorry."

On Saturday, January 29, the eve of the Derry demonstration, a further statement of intent was widely carried by the media:
"A call for a massive turnout at the Civil Rights Demonstration planned for Derry tomorrow has been made by the Executive of the Civil Rights Association. Making the call the Executive pointed out that the British Government are now full-tilt on repression and coercion and that a massive peaceful demonstration was vital if world opinion was to be impressed by the justice of the democratic cause in Northern Ireland.

"The twin major aims for Derry is a demonstration that is both huge in numbers and perfectly peaceful and incident free. It is pointed out that any violence can only set back the civil rights cause and play straight into the hands of the Tory-Unionists by providing a justification not only for any violence they might contemplate against the demonstration itself but also for the daily violence of the security forces."

In a statement from the Camp Council at Long Kesh Concentration Camp carried by the "Irish News" on the same day, the internees themselves said:
"The people have responded to the latest brutalities, repression and intimidation in the only ways left open to them. The present marches at Magilligan, Newcastle, Armagh, Lurgan and the Falls are the disciplined expression of the people's refusal to accept legalised terror. In this nonviolent form of demonstration they have our entire support and we call on everyone who does not wish to be identified with Unionist repression to give his total and unconditional support to the mass demonstrations and marches in Derry and Coalisland this week-end."
Speaking in Stormont on Tuesday, January 25, Prime Minister Brian Faulkner said "that individuals and organisations which . . . would attempt to break the ban on parades . . . would be dealt with firmly by the security forces."

In the same debate the Rev. Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist M.P., referred to a meeting he had with General Tuzo regarding the breaking of the ban by the Civil Rights march at Falls Park. Rev. Paisley said that General Tuzo had told him that it was his business to stop parades where and how he liked. The General said that if he felt they should not be stopped and that summonses only should be issued, he would take that particular line. Continuing Rev. Paisley said: "I asked him: 'If Protestants come out what will you do?' and he replied: "We will hammer them into the ground."

On Thursday, January 27, the Democratic Unionist Association in Derry served notice on the R.U.C. that it intended holding a public religious rally in Guildhall Square at 2.30 p.m. The Guildhall Square was the announced termination point for the Civil Rights march due to start from Bishops Field, Creggan, at 2.00 p.m.

The Rev. James McClelland, a Minister for Derry Free Presbyterian Church and vice-President of the Derry and Foyle Democratic Unionist Association said: "The civil rights march is not legal. Theirs, he said, would be. The authorities will have to keep their word and stop the civil rights march and give us protection". (Irish Press, Jan. 28).

On the Sunday of the march the Sunday Post, Observer and Sunday Mirror, among other papers, carried prominent reports of the cancellation of the planned prayer rally.

Under the heading "'Blame for Bloodshed' Fear Halts Protestant Rally" the SUNDAY POST report reads:

"A Protestant rally in Londonderry, planned to coincide with an anti-internment rally today, was called off yesterday afternoon.

"The Rev. James McClelland, vice-president of Londonderry Democratic Unionist Association, said yesterday, 'We were approached by the Government and given assurances that the Civil Rights march will be halted - by force if necessary.

'We believe wholesale riot and bloodshed could be the result of the Civil Rights activities tomorrow and we would be held responsible if our rally takes place. We have appealed to all loyalists to stay out of the city centre tomorrow.

"We are prepared to give the Government a final opportunity to demonstrate its integrity and honour its promise to stop this march (Civil Rights). But if it fails in this undertaking, it need never again ask loyalist people to surrender their basic right of peaceful and legal assembly'."

The SUNDAY POST report continued:
"A big clash is almost certain when the Civil Rights demonstrators march on the Guildhall in defiance of the Government's parade ban.

"Ten thousand anti-internment marchers are expected. They will be allowed by security forces to walk some distance.

"But the trouble could come when the marchers meet troops near the Guildhall. The Army is certain to mount a massive show of force.

"Londonderry Civil Rights organiser, Johnny Bond, said yesterday, 'We are planning a peaceful protest - that's definite. We won't start or provoke any violence. If there's trouble it will be the Army that starts it'."

A front page report on the SUNDAY OBSERVER, January 30, carried much of the Democratic Unionist Association statement under the headline "'Last Chance' Protestant rally dropped."

In the same report and a similar one in the SUNDAY MIRROR the final note in the prelude to the afternoon's events was struck.

This came in the shape of a joint Army-R.U.C. statement described in the OBSERVER front page story as "a firm policy statement and warning". "The Army and police are in effect putting the blame on the organisers in advance for any violence that may occur" commented the OBSERVER.

Other parts of the joint Army-R.U.C. statement are quoted in the OBSERVER.

"The security forces have a duty to take action against those who set out to break the law. In carrying out their duty they are concerned to avoid or reduce to absolute minimum the consequences of any violence that may erupt.

"We choose the time and place to intervene and this policy, which is clearly in the public interest, allows the possibility that marchers may in some cases proceed for some distance before being stopped.

"This does not mean however that they will be allowed to break the law with impunity. Experience this year has already shown that attempted marches often end in violence, and that must have been clearly foreseen by the organisers.

"Clearly the responsibility for this violence and the consequences of it must rest fairly and squarely on the shoulders of those who encourage people to break the law."

The final paragraph of the Army-R.U.C. statement above was printed in black type in the SUNDAY MIRROR report.

What Fulvio Grimaldi Saw

On Monday, January 31, Signor Fulvio Grimaldi, an Italian journalist in Derry to report the march, described in a Radio Eireann interview what he saw:

"It was the most unbelievable . . . I have travelled many countries, I have seen many civil wars and revolutions and wars, I have never seen such a cold-blooded murder, organised, disciplined murder, planned murder."
He said:
"I was in the front line of the march as the march approached the barricade erected by the military in William Street. There were a few exchanges, a few throws of stones, not very heavy, and afterwards, about three or four minutes, the Army moved up with this water cannon and sprayed the whole crowd with coloured water. Then the crowd dispersed.

"Successively, it returned and threw some more stones: nothing as I have seen in other places in Northern Ireland, nothing really very heavy. After which gas was used massively by the Army, and the crowd dispersed towards the meeting place, which was at Free Derry Corner. As the crowd was moving away, I would say about a couple of thousand people - completely peaceful because they had been drenched with gas and they could hardly breathe, and many were sick - suddenly in the area behind Free Derry Corner - Rossville flats, I think it is called, the big square in front of those flats - the Army, the paratroopers, moved in on Saracens.

"And other paratroopers followed on foot, and they jumped out. The people were thinking they would be given another dose of gas and scattered very hurriedly and they really fled towards Free Derry Corner. The Army jumped out and they started shooting in all directions. I took pictures of this, I took recordings of this, and there is no doubt whatsoever that there wasn't the slightest provocation.

"There hadn't been one shot fired at them. There hadn't been one nail bomb thrown at them. They just jumped out and, with unbelievable murderous fury, shot into the fleeing crowd."

Signor Grimaldi was asked if at any stage before the paratroopers fired there might have been shots from the top of Rossville Flats. He replied: "I am absolutely certain, and it is proved by the tape, which records the whole following of events. Absolutely no shot, no nail bomb even, nothing at all. That crowd was dispersing."

He was asked, in view of the fact that the Army claimed that they had been shooting at snipers on top of the flats, whether he had seen any dead and wounded other than in the streets. He went on: "Let me tell you what I saw. Now, they were only in the street and in the squares. I saw a man and his son crossing the street, trying to get to safety, with their hands on their heads. They were shot dead. The man got shot dead. The son, I think, was dying.

"I saw a young fellow who had been wounded, crouching against the wall. He was shouting 'don't shoot, don't shoot'. A paratrooper approached and shot him from about one yard. I saw a young boy of 15 protecting his girl friend against the wall and then proceeding to try and rescue her by going out with a handkerchief and with the other hand on his hat. A paratrooper approached, shot him from about one yard into the stomach, and shot the girl into the arm.

"I saw a priest approaching a fallen boy in the middle of the square, trying to help him, give him the last rites perhaps, and the army - I saw a paratrooper kneel down and take aim at him and shoot at him, and the priest just got away by laying flat on his belly. I saw a French colleague of mine who, shouting 'press, press' and raising high his arms, went into the middle to give help to a fallen person and I saw again paratroopers kneeling down and aiming at him, and it's only by a fantastic acrobatic jump that he did that he got away.

"I myself got shot at five times. I was at a certain stage shielding behind a window. I approached the window to take some pictures. Five bullets went immediately through the window, and I don't know how they missed."

Signor Grimaldi was asked what the mood of the people in the Bogside had been while this was going on. He said: "It was panic, it was sheer despair, it was frustration. I saw people crying, old men crying, young boys, who had lost their friends of 14, 13 and 15 years, crying and not understanding. There was astonishment. There was bewilderment, there was rage and frustration."

The March

(By Civil Rights Steward, Seamus McAlister of Belfast)

Bishops Field, a large grass area in the vast Creggan housing estate was the assembly point. Some 12,000 people from the Creggan and Shantallow mainly, but with a strong Belfast delegation moved off headed by the Civil Rights Association banner. Banners carried in the Belfast Falls march showed above the mass - "Civil Rights for All", "Release All Internees" and "End Special Powers Act."

As we wended our way down towards Brandywell it was obvious that only the sick and child-minders had been left behind in Creggan.

Slowing at Brandywell the demonstration was joined by thousands more and at each street corner in Bogside more and yet more peaceful marchers joined in. Finally the figure marching approached twenty five to thirty thousand.

Up from the Bogside - a long straight hill. Then sharply right downhill in William Street. At this point the first soldiers were seen - Saracens and strong foot detachments in the complex of streets at Francis Street. NICRA stewards blocked these streets to prevent any confrontations. From this point the Guildhall Clock Tower is clearly visible: the time 3.40 p.m.

When the tail of the march cleared this point the confrontation with the head of the parade had commenced. A cloud of dye and C.S. Gas could be seen rising above the roof tops, the dull thump of rubber bullets firing could be heard. As the tail of the march passed Little James' Street facing Rossville Street rubber bullets were fired by troops in Little James' Street into the marching people.

The noise of a second volley of rubber bullets could not disguise the distinctive crack of two S.L.R. rifles fired by paratroopers stationed in sniper positions in a derelict factory nearby.

The first innocent victims had been shot.

The Meeting

Blocked by C.S. Gas, dye and rubber bullets at the lower end of William St., the Platform Lorry and the bulk of marchers turned back past the High Rise Rossville Flats across the open ground to Free Derry Corner.

Loudspeakers and stewards announced the meeting point.

The platform party assembled and Bernadette Devlin began speaking to a peaceful crowd of some 10,000. Thousands more were flooding towards the meeting point. Shooting commenced almost immediately - around the High Rise Flats at high speed raced three Saracens. Muzzle flashes could be seen at the firing ports. Bullets whined above the now prone mass of people. Two distant cracks from the direction of Old Derry Walls were heard. Bullets hit Free Derry Wall and nearby maisonette walls. The crowd began dispersing rapidly under the urging of the platform .. . "Disperse . . . disperse.."

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