Relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday arrive at Government Buildings in Dublin to meet the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and present him with a copy of the long-awaited Saville Inquiry report.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has apologised for what he said were the “unjustified and unjustifiable” events of Bloody Sunday.
He was speaking following the publication of the Saville inquiry report into the killing of 14 civilians in Derry in 1972 which was released on Tuesday.
In a statement, he said the 5,000-page report found that “on balance” British troops fired the first shots during the “tragic events” of January 30, 1972 without issuing a warning.
He told MPs: “The conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities.”
Mr Cameron told a hushed House of Commons: “Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of our armed forces and for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.”
The lengthy and massively costly inquiry also concluded that Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was present at the time of the violence and “probably armed with a submachine gun” but did not engage in “any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
The soldiers of Support Company who entered the Bogside area of Derry “did so as a result of an order which should have not been given” by their commander, the report said.
The civilians died after troops opened fire on a civil rights march.
While shots were fired by republican paramilitaries, the report says that “none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of civilian casualties”.
The report also found that “in no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire”.
There was a “serious and widespread loss of fire discipline” among the troops and that none of the soldiers “fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombs”.
Many of the soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing”.
The findings also disclosed that many of those shot were fleeing the troops or assisting the wounded.
While the report concluded that “immediate responsibility” lay with those members of Support Company who engaged in “unjustifiable firing”, Mr Cameron said that the use of terms such as “murder and unlawful killing” was not a judgment the Saville tribunal – or politicians – could make.
But he acknowledged: “These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say.
“We do not honour all those who served with such distinction by keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.”
Families of the Bloody Sunday victims gave a triumphant thumbs-up as the report into the deaths was published.
They waved a copy of the report at the Guildhall in Derry as they prepared to listen to Mr Cameron’s assessment.
Crowds watched on a big outdoor screen as the British leader said he could not defend the British army by defending the indefensible.
Meanwhile, the North’s Chief Constable Matt Baggott and Alasdair Fraser, head of the Public Prosecution Service, are to have talks to consider whether any of the paratroopers who opened fire on Bloody Sunday will face criminal charges.
Any decision is solely a matter for the PPS, acting independently in accordance with the Test for Prosecution, according to a statement from Alasdair Fraser’s office in Belfast.
It added: “The Director of Public Prosecutions, together with the Chief Constable, will consider the report to determine the nature and extent of any police inquiries and investigations which may be required to enable informed decisions as to prosecution to be taken.”
The Saville Report’s key findings ::
:: “The firing by soldiers of 1 Para caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” This also applied to the 14th victim, who died later from injuries. The report added: “We found no instances where it appeared to us that soldiers either were or might have been justified in firing”.
:: “Despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers.” The report added that no one threw, or threatened to throw, nail or petrol bombs at soldiers.
:: The explanations given by soldiers were rejected, with a number said to have “knowingly put forward false accounts”.
:: Members of the so-called Official IRA fired a shot at troops, but missed their target, though crucially it was concluded it was the paratroopers who shot first on Bloody Sunday.
:: The report recounts how some soldiers had their weapons cocked in contravention of guidelines, and that no warnings were issued by Paratroopers who opened fire.
:: Speculation that unknown IRA gunmen had been wounded or killed by troops, and their bodies spirited away, is also dismissed. There was no evidence to support it, and it would surely have come to light, the report said.
:: Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, second in command of the Provisional IRA in Derry in 1972, was “probably armed with a Thompson submachine gun” at one point in the day, and though it is possible he fired the weapon, this cannot be proved. But the report concluded: “He did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
:: Nail bombs had been found in the pockets of 17-year-old Gerald Donaghey, sparking claims they were planted by security forces. The report concludes the nail bombs were “probably” in his possession when he was shot, but adds: “However, we are sure that Gerald Donaghey was not preparing or attempting to throw a nail bomb when he was shot; and we are equally sure that he was not shot because of his possession of nail bombs. He was shot while trying to escape from soldiers”.
:: Lord Saville concluded the commander of land forces in Northern Ireland, Major General Robert Ford, would have been aware that the Parachute Regiment had a reputation for using excessive force. But he would not have believed there was a risk of paratroopers firing unjustifiably.
:: The commanding officer of the paratroopers, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, disobeyed an order from a superior officer not to enter troops into the nationalist Bogside estate; while Lord Saville found his superior, Brigadier Patrick MacLellan, held no blame for the shootings since if he had known what Col Wilford was intending, he might well have called it off.
:: No blame was placed on the organisers of the march, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
:: Neither the UK nor Northern Ireland governments planned or foresaw the use of unnecessary lethal force.