More than 10,000 retrace steps of 1972 march that became Northern Ireland's Bloody Sunday

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (AP) _ More than 10,000 Roman Catholics on Sunday retraced the path of a 1972 march that produced one of Northern Ireland's worst atrocities, when British soldiers killed 13 demonstrators in bitterly disputed circumstances.

Despite icy winds and showers of rain, the crowd marched for more than an hour through the Catholic west side of Londonderry to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. On Jan. 30, 1972, British paratroopers opened fire on crowds protesting against the internment without trial of Irish Republican Army suspects.

Speakers told Sunday's gathering that a British government-authorized investigation under way in Londonderry might finally prove the guilt of the soldiers and the innocence of those slain.

A 1972 investigation ruled that soldiers had opened fire lawfully because some of those killed had probably been throwing bombs or firing guns. That verdict infuriated Catholics and was subsequently repudiated by Britain, but the soldiers still insist that IRA gunmen fired at them first.

The new Bloody Sunday Inquiry, led by judges from England, Australia and Canada, has been gathering evidence since 1998 and expects to reach conclusions in 2004. Lawyers representing the soldiers who opened fire that day have successfully appealed to have the men's identities concealed and their testimony given in England rather than Londonderry.

The lead speaker, IRA veteran Gerry Kelly, said the British establishment remained ``determined to protect all those involved in Bloody Sunday.''

``Why else would they destroy the very rifles which were used on that day? Why else would they refuse to hand over crucial photographic, video and documentary evidence? Why else would they fight for anonymity for those responsible for the killings?'' asked Kelly, an IRA car-bomb pioneer who in 1983 led the biggest prison escape in British history.

``But the truth will come out,'' said Kelly, who today participates in Northern Ireland's Catholic-Protestant legislature, a product of the province's 1998 peace accord.

Other speakers rejected mounting criticism of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which has already cost British taxpayers more than $90 million. Leaders of Northern Ireland's British Protestant majority have also complained that hundreds of IRA murders of Protestants remain unsolved with no new investigations in prospect.

``To those who so strenuously oppose the inquiry, we say what happened here was different. Innocent people were murdered by the state,'' said Geraldine Doherty, the niece of a 17-year-old boy killed on Bloody Sunday.

The British army killed about 300 people in Northern Ireland from 1970 to its last fatal shooting in 1992. The IRA killed more than 1,800 people from 1970 to 1997, when the group halted its campaign to abolish Northern Ireland. Dissidents opposed to the truce and subsequent peace pact have continued to mount sporadic attacks.