Blair orders probe of 1972 N. Ireland massacre
Protestant gang vows to stop killing 'ordinary Catholics'
In this story:
January 29, 1998
Web posted at: 3:13 p.m. EDT (1513 GMT)
LONDON (CNN) -- Citing new evidence in Northern Ireland's
Bloody Sunday massacre, British Prime Minister Tony Blair
announced a new investigation Thursday "to establish the
The fatal shootings of 13 Roman Catholic men and teen-agers
at the end of a protest march in
Londonderry on January, 30,
1972, was a watershed in the sectarian Northern Ireland
conflict -- one that radicalized hundreds of Catholic youths
to move from street protests into the ranks of the Irish
Republican Army. A 14th marcher died later.
Also Thursday, a renegade pro-British Protestant militia
responsible for recently murdering several Catholics in
Northern Ireland announced it would no longer attack the
"ordinary Catholic community."
The Loyalist Volunteer Force, in a coded statement sent to
local news media, said its random attacks will cease five
minutes before midnight GMT, but made clear there would be no
end to the killing of people it deems legitimate targets.
Three judges in charge of probe
Blair orders new probe of Bloody Sunday
Blair, speaking to Parliament on the eve of the massacre's
26th anniversary, said the Bloody Sunday probe was "not to
accuse individuals or institutions or invite fresh
recriminations, but to establish the truth about what
happened on that day, so far as that can be achieved at 26
"Bloody Sunday was a tragic day for all concerned," Blair
said. "We must all wish it had never happened. Our concern
now is simply to establish the truth and close this painful
chapter once and for all," he told the House of Commons."
In the Commons, Protestant political leaders immediately
complained that the new inquiry would reopen old wounds and
do more harm than good.
The inquiry will be carried out by an international panel of
three senior judges led by Britain's Lord Saville. Blair said
the other two members likely would be from the British
Commonwealth, the 54-nation association that includes Britain
and its former colonies.
Blair's Labor Party government, which came to power last May,
had been expected to order the inquiry in an effort to build
confidence and trust during negotiations on the future of
Britain's province, Northern Ireland.
The panel expects to hold public hearings in Britain and
Northern Ireland. The tribunal could grant immunity from
prosecution to some of the people who testify.
The judges' conclusions will be given to Britain's Northern
Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam.
"Our intention is that they will be made public," Blair said.
Relatives of the victims watched Blair from the visitors'
section of the Commons.
"My heart lifted, I thought at last a member of the British
establishment, a prime minister, understands why Bloody
Sunday is so important," Angela Heggarty, spokeswoman for the
group, said afterward.
Blair offers no apologies
Catholic activists have compiled a catalog of witnesses' oral
testimony, backed up by audio and film records, which
indicates that not only British paratroopers who confronted
the protest march were involved in the shootings in the
Catholic Bogside district.
They contend that army snipers on Londonderry's walls
overlooking the district killed three protesters.
The marchers were demonstrating against Britain's policy at
the time of imprisoning IRA suspects without a trial. No
soldiers were injured in the melee.
England's most senior judge of the day, Lord Widgery,
concluded in 1972 that some of the soldiers' shooting
"bordered on the reckless."
He also said members of the IRA, a Catholic militant group,
shot at soldiers first and that some of those killed may have
been handling guns or explosives.
Blair made no apology for the events of Bloody Sunday, but
said Widgery did not have time to consider all the evidence
that might have been available.
Protestant gang promises partial cease-fire
In its statement on a cease-fire, the Loyalist Volunteer
Force said it would "carry on its campaign against the
Republic of Ireland until it drops its constitutional claim
over Northern Ireland."
"We will also carry on our campaign against known Republicans
and factions which are still engaged in attacks."
The LVF, which opposed cease-fires called by two larger
pro-British Protestant paramilitary groups, launched a series
of attacks on Catholics after an IRA splinter group killed
its leader in jail December 27.
Since then eight Catholic civilians have been slain.
On Monday, representatives of one of the larger Protestant
paramilitary groups, the Ulster Defense Association, which
had admitted taking part in the three of the killings, were
ejected from the Northern Ireland peace talks.