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Report of the The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
- Volume I - Chapter 2

Outline of events before the day

Chapter 2: Outline of events before the day

2.1 Londonderry in January 1972 was a troubled city with a divided society, in a troubled and divided country. Throughout much of Northern Ireland there were deep and seemingly irreconcilable divisions between nationalists (predominantly Roman Catholic and a majority in the city) and unionists (generally Protestant and a majority in Northern Ireland as a whole). In general terms the former wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and unite with the rest of Ireland, while the latter wanted it to remain part of the United Kingdom.

2.2 This sectarian divide, as it was called, had existed for a long time. Among other things, it had led in the years preceding Bloody Sunday to many violent clashes between the two communities and with the police, then the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The police had become regarded by many in the nationalist community not as impartial keepers of the peace and upholders of the law, but rather as agents of the unionist Northern Ireland Government, employed in their view to keep the nationalist community subjugated, often by the use of unjustifiable and brutal force.

2.3 On 14th August 1969, after there had been particularly violent clashes between civilians and the police in Londonderry, the authorities brought into the city units of the British Army as an aid to the civil power, in other words to restore law and order. The British Army was in the city in this role on Bloody Sunday.

2.4 There was a further dimension in the form of paramilitary organisations. By the beginning of the 1970s the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had split into two organisations known respectively as the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA. These paramilitary organisations (often referred to simply as the IRA, though they were distinct organisations) had restarted a campaign of armed violence, in the belief that only by such means could Northern Ireland be freed from what they regarded as the yoke of British colonial domination and become part of a united Ireland. There were also those on the unionist side of the sectarian divide who organised and used armed violence in the belief that this was required to maintain the union with the United Kingdom.

2.5 This further dimension meant that the security forces, in addition to their other responsibilities, had to deal with those using armed violence.

2.6 The situation in Londonderry in January 1972 was serious. By this stage the nationalist community had largely turned against the soldiers, many believing that the Army, as well as the RUC, were agents of an oppressive regime. Parts of the city to the west of the Foyle lay in ruins, as the result of the activities of the IRA and of rioting young men (some members of the IRA or its junior wing, the Fianna) known to soldiers and some others as the “Derry Young Hooligans”. A large part of the nationalist area of the city was a “no go” area, which was dominated by the IRA, where ordinary policing could not be conducted and where even the Army ventured only by using large numbers of soldiers.

2.7 The armed violence had led to many casualties. There had been numerous clashes between the security forces and the IRA in which firearms had been used on both sides and in which the IRA had thrown nail and petrol bombs. Over the months and years before Bloody Sunday civilians, soldiers, policemen and IRA gunmen and bombers had been killed and wounded; and at least in Londonderry, in January 1972 the violence showed few signs of abating.

2.8 In August 1971 the Northern Ireland Government (with the agreement of the United Kingdom Government) had introduced internment without trial of suspected terrorists; and at the same time had imposed a ban on marches and processions, giving as the reason that the former would assist in dealing with armed violence and that the latter would reduce the opportunity for violent confrontations between nationalists and unionists.

2.9 The nationalist community in particular regarded internment without trial with abhorrence, considering it yet another illegitimate means employed by the unionist Government. Both nationalists and unionists expressed opposition to the ban on marches and processions.

2.10 Many people were interned without trial, almost without exception Catholics from the nationalist community. Over the following months there were allegations that those held had been mistreated, allegations that in significant respects were eventually found to have substance.

2.11 By January 1972 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had decided to defy the ban on marches. In particular they organised a march in Londonderry to protest against internment without trial. This was the march that took place on Bloody Sunday.

2.12 The authorities knew of the proposed march and that the organisers had planned a route to Guildhall Square (also known as Shipquay Place), outside the city Guildhall, where prominent people would address the marchers. The authorities took the view that the security forces should prevent the march from proceeding as planned, fearing that this flouting of the ban would undermine law and order and would be likely to lead to a violent reaction from unionists. This view prevailed, notwithstanding a contrary view expressed by Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, the senior police officer in charge of the Londonderry area, who advised that the march should be allowed to proceed. The march was expected to be too large for the police to be able to control it themselves, so the Army shouldered the main burden of dealing with it. The plan that emerged was to allow the march to proceed in the nationalist areas of the city, but to stop it from reaching Guildhall Square by erecting barriers on the roads leading to Guildhall Square, manned by soldiers who were stationed in the area. In the circumstances that obtained at the time, and despite the view expressed by Chief Superintendent Lagan, it was not unreasonable of the authorities to seek to deal with the march in this way.

2.13 At the beginning of January 1972, Major General Robert Ford, then Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland, had visited Londonderry. He wrote a confidential memorandum to Lieutenant General Sir Harry Tuzo, his senior and the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, in which he expressed himself disturbed by the attitude of the officers commanding the resident troops and that of Chief Superintendent Lagan. He recorded that they had told him that the area of damage in the city was extending and that even the major shopping centre would be destroyed in the coming months. He referred in particular to the “Derry Young Hooligans” as a factor in the continued destruction of the city, and expressed the view that the Army was virtually incapable of dealing with them. He also expressed the view that he was coming to the conclusion that the minimum force required to deal with the “Derry Young Hooligans” was, after clear warnings, to shoot selected ringleaders.

2.14 The suggestion that selected ringleaders should be shot was not put forward as a means of dealing with the forthcoming civil rights march or any rioting that might accompany it.

2.15 As part of the plan for dealing with the march, what General Ford did do was to order that an additional Army battalion be sent to the city to be used to arrest rioters if, which was expected to happen, the march was followed by rioting. Initially he expressed the view that such a force might be able to arrest a large number of rioters and by that means significantly decrease the activities of the “Derry Young Hooligans”.

2.16 To that end General Ford ordered that 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (1 PARA), which was stationed near Belfast, should travel to Londonderry and be used as the arrest force.

2.17 The detailed plan for controlling the march was the responsibility of Brigadier Patrick MacLellan, the Commander of 8th Infantry Brigade, which was the Army brigade in charge of the Londonderry area. The Operation Order (for what was called Operation Forecast) set out the plan that Brigadier MacLellan and his staff had prepared. The Operation Order provided for the use of 1 PARA as the arrest force, but also made clear in express terms that any arrest operation was to be mounted only on the orders of the Brigadier.