John Hume, former leader of the nationalist SDLP, told the Bloody Sunday inquiry yesterday that the key to establishing what happened lay in discovering who sent paratroopers on to the streets of Londonderry.
The Nobel peace prize winner did not attend the march in January 1972, when 14 people were shot dead, and advised others not to do so.
Mr Hume told the Saville inquiry, which is investigating the incident, that Bloody Sunday was "the worst day in the history of this city in my lifetime". A few days earlier, he said, he had watched paratroopers clashing violently with civil rights marchers on a beach near Londonderry. He told the inquiry: "If they were firing rubber bullets and gas on a beach where there could not be any form of violence – I thought, 'Good Lord, what would they do on the streets of a town and what trouble would they cause?'."
He urged the inquiry to find out who was behind the deployment of the troops on Bloody Sunday, adding: "That is the question I believe this inquiry should find out immediately and I believe, if they do, they will get the real results of this inquiry."
Mr Hume said Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's present Education Minister, was understood to be an IRA figure at the time of Bloody Sunday. Asked if he knew who was in the IRA he replied: "There was a certain name that was always identified but apart from that name none of the rest of them would have been known."
Asked who that was, he answered: "Martin McGuinness."
Mr Hume spent just over an hour in the witness box describing the background to the march as well as his experience of the day itself. He said: "What is very important to remember about this ... the issue of why the Army was on the streets, the reason why people were having to march, was because the injustice of that Northern Ireland [in 1972] was dreadful – and this city was the worst example of that."
Mr Hume finished his evidence to a round of applause from the public gallery where relatives of the dead and injured were listening to proceedings.
His testimony coincided with the inquiry's return from its Christmas recess. The inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate, was established in 1998 and has been sitting in public since March 2000.
The inquiry has heard from nearly 500 witnesses and is not expected to finish until 2004, by which stage the bill for the hearings is expected to top £100m.Reuse content