Into the void: Marching for hearts and minds

In a follow up to yesterday’s ‘culture wars’ post in Derry, I noted with interest the (mainstream media and citizen journalist) coverage of the 40th anniversary Bloody Sunday ‘march in the city.

The committee of the Bloody Sunday Trust’s announcement last year  that (post-Saville) 2011 would represent the final march, suggested the end of the annual fixture in the city.

However a number of relatives, including Jim Keys left the committee before last year’s announcement. Ten days ago he wrote in the Derry Journal:

“What is suddenly wrong with a march commemorating Bloody Sunday? And particularly when this year’s theme is ‘March for Justice’? Is it not essential that we march given there is as yet not a hint of prosecutions, even for perjury, let alone murder, of any of the 10 soldiers the Saville Report asks us to believe were the only ones responsible for the whole thing?

“And essential too given there’s no ongoing legal or political outcry at its bamboozling conclusions that the nail bombs were not planted on Gerard Donaghy’s body and that there was no high-level conspiracy or cover up. Such conclusions fly in the face of the evidence.”

Justice was to be the call from Sunday’s marchers, particularly for the family of Gerard Donaghy, who have vowed to continue the fight to clear his name.

It was reported last year that some of the families want the soldiers responsible for the 13 deaths to be prosecuted.

However in a series of ‘official’ organised events, to commemorate the 40th anniversary, Michael Mansfield, delivering the annual Bloody Sunday lecture in the Millennium Forum on Saturday, suggested that attempts to prosecute the paratroopers would be doomed to fail. The lecture took place on the same day and in the same venue as Sinn Fein’s Uniting Ireland Conference, which attracted the interest of over 1,000 people.

It was against the backdrop then that without endorsement from the Bloody Sunday committee and the backing of only a number of the relatives of those killed on January 30 1972, Sunday’s ‘march for justice‘ was only supposed to attract a small turnout.

Apparently the 3,000 or so  who turned up (which is the broad consensus) didn’t read the script and a sizable march (despite the rain) made up of a motley of organistions and groupings including the IRSP, SWP, 32 CSM, Republican Sinn Fein, RNU, Republican POW protesters and even relatives of Kieran Doherty, shot dead by the Real IRA in 2010.

Many were caught off guard, including Eamonn McCann who admitted on Radio Foyle this morning that he was taken back by the turnout. Resigning as chairman of the Bloody Sunday Trust today, McCann reflected that “on balance”, the ‘march for justice’ probably should have been included in the official programme of events.

“I think it would have been reasonable to include it. But it is also reasonable to say, of course, that the organisers of the week were entitled to decide what should go into the programme and to decide what should go into it whether I or anyone else disagrees with it.”

What Sunday’s ‘march for justice’ does illustrate, is that when Sinn Fein (and the mainstream republican movement) step to the side, any number of independent organisations are more than ready to step into the vacuum.

Whether Sinn Fein or the majority of Bloody Sunday families will lament on the decision to step back from the march, with Easter around just the corner, it’s increasingly apparent that the issue of commemoration has become a fault-line in republican circles.

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About AldousDuke
Mid Tyrone journalist, not so freelance any more.

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