Politics: Bloody Sunday inquiry gets the go-ahead

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A fresh inquiry into the Bloody Sunday shooting 26 years ago is to be announced today by the Government. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, says the devil will be in the detail.

Tony Blair will today announce the decision to hold a fresh inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killing on 30 January 1972 of 13 Catholic civil rights protesters by members of the First Parachute Regiment in Londonderry's Bogside. There were intense talks at Downing Street over the type of the inquiry but Westminster sources said last night that it was unlikely to include an international element.

The armed forces were deeply concerned that a fresh inquiry would leave former soldiers open to legal action, and ministers were also anxious to avoid destabilizing the multi-party peace talks on Northern Ireland by upsetting the Ulster Unionists with the announcement.

The London stage of the multi-party talks ended yesterday on an up-beat note, enabling the statement to be given the go-ahead.

Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, supported the inquiry following the demands by the victims' relatives. But sources at Westminster said the final decision rested largely with Mr Blair.

The Irish government will publish a 175-page dossier to coincide with the announcement, setting out its own analysis of the latest evidence on the killings, which it sent to the Government some weeks ago with its demand for the inquiry to be reopened.

Mr Blair gave no hint of the decision yesterday in the Commons when he was pressed again by Labour MPs but there was intense speculation among the Ulster parties that a tribunal would be appointed.

Ulster Unionists have warned they will demand inquiries into IRA atrocities. But privately, leading Unionists at the talks said they were more concerned about the details, including the type of inquiry, its terms of reference, and whether evidence would be given under oath.

Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein negotiator, claimed a battle was going on within the Government between those who accepted the need for an inquiry and "those who have a military agenda".

Seamus Mallon, of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party said at the conclusion of the talks yesterday that he expected a statement. "It is important that this very serious blemish - to put it mildly - on the good name of this country ... should be put right as soon as possible."

Ms Mowlam said after the talks that she sensed a "much more positive mood", with the parties finally getting down to the business of negotiating on the options for settlement. Negotiations get under way again in Belfast on Monday before moving to Dublin Castle on 16 February.