Letters: The legacies of Bloody Sunday

Sunday 23 October 2011 07:43

*** I do not wish to diminish the significance of Lord Saville's report on the "Bloody Sunday" shootings, however I do find the hypocrisy of some of those who have condemned the military to be sickening.

It is wrong that soldiers shot civilians, almost all of whom were unarmed and none of whom, according to Saville, represented a threat to the military.

We should take note that, according to Lord Saville, 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 very fact of bringing a lethal weapon to a peaceful march risked initiating an exchange of fire.

A crucial finding by Saville is that there is no evidence that the shootings were premeditated. Over a period of decades, terrorists on both sides of the sectarian divide planned and carried out premeditated murders of hundreds of innocents. Some victims were chosen on the basis of their religion and some were merely "in the wrong place at the wrong time". A minority of the targets were members of the military or security forces; the overwhelming majority were unarmed and defenceless.

To date, there has been no unequivocal acceptance by the terrorists that their murderous actions were such. The most we have heard are mealy-mouthed expressions of "regret" at losses of life. Their words will continue to ring hollow until they offer an unqualified admission that they deliberately and wilfully murdered uninvolved civilians who could not conceivably be blamed for UK government policy.

Ken Campbell, Kettering, Northamptonshire

*** The build-up to the massacre really began in 1968, when 500 civil-rights demonstrators in Derry were baton-charged by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

By 30 January 1972, the only thing that had changed was the lengths to which the Unionists and the British government were prepared to go to intimidate nationalist protesters from the streets. In the interim, CS gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, even internment without trial and martial law, had failed.

I'm not ready to forgive or forget. Michael Kelly would have turned 55 this year. His family and friends were denied his company. I remember Michael's father recalling after the funeral that Michael ran to help a man who had been hit. As he ran towards the man, Michael was shot. That was the first time in his life Michael took part in any demonstration.

Criminal charges must be brought against the soldiers responsible for the killings. The 14 murdered have waited long enough.

William Perry, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

*** The most nauseating spectacle of the week was that of Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister and former IRA chief, Martin McGuinness, referring to the Bloody Sunday killings as "murder". McGuinness himself is strongly suspected of having been carrying an automatic weapon in Londonderry on the day of the tragedy, something he does, of course, strongly deny.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, that supposedly brought an end to the activities of the IRA , the UDR and other terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, hundreds of convicted terrorist murderers and thugs were released from prison.

We will probably never know exactly what happened in Londonderry on Bloody Sunday, but even if some British soldiers did respond to the perceived threat of violence with undue force, the Good Friday "pardons" should, in all justice, be extended to cover the actions of the security forces too.

Robert Readman, Bournemouth, Dorset

*** The final report of the Saville inquiry certainly offers value for money. The detail of the report can leave no one in doubt as to what actually did happen on that day. The long-suffering relatives can at last move into the final stages of the grieving process for their lost loved ones.

Britain has also gained from the process. The dignified response from the Prime Minister showed a country that may at last be starting to emerge from its imperialist past and come to terms with its own identity.

Paul Donovan, London E11

*** Finally, after a wait of almost 40 years, the people of Derry have heard proclaimed to the world what they knew all along, that the loss of innocent life on Bloody Sunday was, as David Cameron said, unjustifiable. In other words, murder.

Perhaps as a token to the people of Derry the British government and media could stop referring to the city as Londonderry, a constant reminder of British rule, but merely, Derry, as it is known by those who live there. For it is not just people who have to lay things to rest and move on, but governments and empires too.

Caolán Byrne, Newry, Co Down

Loss of the 'Lancastria'

This year 17 June is the 70th anniversary of the greatest single British maritime loss of life, but following the miracle of Dunkirk there was no publicity at the time and indeed very little since.

The troopship Lancastria, lying off St Nazaire, took off troops who had still been fighting on in north-western France after Dunkirk. At least 4,000 and possibly as many as 9,000 boarded.

Before getting under way, the Lancastria was struck by several bombs, and within a few minutes completely overturned in a sea of oil with a loss of life that has never been accurately assessed. My father, Albert Frederick Nadin, was one of the few survivors. He died two years ago.

Successive British governments have dismissed claims for some recognition and for all the facts to be revealed. However the Scottish Parliament has had the decency to strike a medal in recognition of the tragedy, and although my father did not quite live to receive his he was pleased to know that it was to be awarded. I received it on his behalf from Alex Salmond, and met people at the ceremony who did not even know their relatives had been on the Lancastria or where their remains were, until contacted regarding a medal.

The French people of St Nazaire have always received the survivors very well and keep alive their regard for those lost fighting for their freedom. Let us now have some recognition from the British government.

R W Nadin, Bridport, Dorset

Health care in Africa

We're all impatient to see vastly better health results. So it was disappointing to read Results UK (letters, 14 June) complaining that large health operations (SWAps or Sector-Wide Approaches) used by African governments were not doing enough to fight tuberculosis in Africa. Such initiatives are supported by donors such as USAID UNICEF, the World Bank and the Global Fund. The large Tanzania SWAp, for example, has shown substantial results in TB case detection and treatment.

Had the Results authors talked with more representatives from countries with high TB infection, they would have been reminded of the importance of country ownership and leadership in SWAps and other development operations. The UK Government and other development partners have long supported this country-ownership approach, financing priorities set by countries themselves. The Bank recognises that results are critical and we have stepped up support for results-based approaches.

Since 2007 the World Bank has been committed to helping low-income countries strengthen their national health systems. This means providing wide-ranging health services covering many diseases and conditions. A recent example is the $63m East Africa Public Health Laboratory Networking Project, which will speed up testing for and treatment of communicable diseases including multi-drug resistant TB strains, in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The Bank is currently involved in 50 health operations. Of these less than 10 per cent support SWAps. Claims that SWAps are the Bank's preferred approach to working in health are incorrect.

Phil Hay, World Bank, Washington DC

Don't mock new 'disorders'

Joan McTigue (letter, 10 June) ridicules "long-winded titles" such as "oppositional defiant disorder", which she says her late father would have called children not doing as they are told.

No doubt Joan McTigue's late father would also have said that a person with an Alzheimer's diagnosis has lost their marbles, that a person with a diagnosis of schizophrenia is crazy, and that a person with a depressive illness is just being a miserable sod. These anachronistic attitudes are no help at all.

Ewan McNicholl, Edinburgh

I have been very disappointed at the series of letters so quick to dismiss new "disorders" or behaviour conditions. As a head of learning support in a high school, I see repeated patterns of behaviour in young children that may or may not be confirmed by medical diagnosis, but which definitely go some way to explain the challenges some people have in conforming to the expectations of society.

By understanding the causes of problems, we are much more able to provide the right level of support and strategies to help the young people and their families. People who so readily dismiss challenging behaviour as naughty or poor parenting have no idea about the difficult lives some families have, with little support from society. We should not judge others without knowing the facts.

Penny Jones, High Peak, Derbyshire

I too am concerned about new medical conditions. However the problem is not the proliferation, rather the use to which they are put.

Clearly children have problems with learning for many different reasons. If these can be pinpointed, there is a better chance of overcoming the condition to improve the learning process; thereby the named disorder serves a useful purpose.

However, my long experience as a teacher tells me that these syndromes are sometimes used, by parents and children alike, as an excuse for low achievement with no effort to follow advice to improve. To use a long-standing example, announcing that one cannot spell because one is dyslexic is nonsense; there are plenty of well-proven methods of teaching those with dyslexia to cope perfectly adequately with the written word.

Rod Auton, Middle Handley, Derbyshire

Tories wield the axe yet again

Steve Richards (15 June) is spot on in his assessment of flawed Conservative economic policy .

In my 45 years as a member of the electorate, successive Conservative governments have never needed an excuse to axe services in order that the wealthy can enjoy tax cuts, even in the good times. That is the primary reason for the collapse in Britain's skills base and third-rate public transport network, to name just two of the facets of British social fabric that have suffered.

One can only wonder at the horrendous damage they'll cause this time given half an excuse.

Terence Roy Smith, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

Karl Osborne states (letter, 16 June) that "ordinary people never had a say in how this economic crisis was created". He is wrong.

The imprudent borrowing to fund an increasingly large structural deficit, and sheer incompetence at understanding and regulating the banks, is down to the previous government, for which ordinary people really did vote; or by their indifference and abstentions gave it power.

David Rhodes, Nottingham

"I don't recall voting for this coalition," whines Stephen Jackson (letter, 16 June). Yet, as a Liberal Democrat, he is presumably all in favour of proportional representation.

What type of government does he imagine PR tends to produce? Strong single-party ones with clear manifesto-based mandates, or coalitions?

Paul Leigh, Wraysbury, Windsor

The fear of urban foxes

Suddenly the cuddly little semi-tame doggie urban fox has become London's wild and fierce, child-mauling public enemy number one ("In pursuit of London's Public Enemy No 1", 12 June). There may be good reasons for a fox cull in areas like Hackney on public health or nuisance grounds, but should this once-in-living-memory event really strike such primeval fear into the hearts of urban-dwelling parents?

The incident has been extremely distressing for the parents of the two baby girls, and naturally worrying for other parents. But the likelihood of another such attack seems extremely small, particularly since the individual culprit has been caught and killed.

Urban foxes are a very common sight in many British towns and cities, as well as in other countries – for example, I remember seeing them frequently in a small town on Hokkaido, the north island of Japan, where they had been common for many years. Yet this appears to be the first report of an attack on humans that anyone can remember. Are we seeing the start of a worrying new trend in fox behaviour, or is this just another of those fears that we are getting wildly out of proportion?

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon

Silent MEPs

I wrote to the eight MEPs in the north-west of England asking two questions regarding Israel's trade agreements with the EU. I received an acknowledgement from two Labour members with a promise of a detailed follow-up, but after eight weeks I have received no response at all from the other six. Does anyone know what MEPs do, apart from enjoy a very good salary and claim lucrative expenses?

Alan J Percy, Wirral

In a flap

Why does Charles Nevin (Notes, 15 June) criticise Newton for providing a big cat-flap for his big cat and a small flap for his small cat? Obviously the smaller cat couldn't move the bigger flap.

Robert Davies, London SE3

Perspectives on oil and blame

US politicians seek scapegoats

US politicians are calling for BP to scrap billions of pounds of quarterly dividends. The BP dividend reportedly represents one seventh of all UK dividends and is an important source of cash for UK pension funds. Before we add to the pressure on BP to comply, we would need to be sure that this is a cost which should be funded primarily by UK pensioners.

US politicians have form when it comes to shifting blame for oil spills. Some years ago the UK ship operating company of which I was a director had the misfortune to have one of its fleet of oil tankers spill oil in New York harbour.

The media machine moved swiftly into action with front-page headlines and TV coverage. The US political system responded equally quickly, with one high-profile senator branding us "environmental criminals".

The ensuing grand jury, however, reflected on the fact that, as is mandatory in New York, a NY harbour pilot was actually navigating the vessel, with NY tugs attached, as they pulled her over uncharted debris on the sea bed. The shipping company was eventually found not culpable, although this did not make the front pages or TV news.

I expect higher levels of intelligence and integrity from the Obama presidency than from his predecessor. His recent outbursts suggest that he may be just as prone to scapegoating foreign interests as US politicians before him.

Allan Jones, London SE3

Finally, the bill for that cheap fuel

Hideous though the whole BP disaster is, one cannot help but feel that if President Obama could only grasp the nettle and announce to his people that they would need to pay 10 cents more per gallon of gasoline (which would probably still be cheaper than we in Europe pay) the whole situation might be eased.

Then at least the clean-up could be financed and the engineers left to wrestle with the truly Herculean task of capping the flow.

The Americans have been lunching too cheaply on their fuel for too long; now that the check has been presented, they should surely accept the total.

Penelope Mackay, Wantage, Oxfordshire

The new 9/11?

If, as President Obama has suggested, the BP oil spill is as serious for the US as was 9/11, let us hope and pray that the US deals with it in a less disastrous way than it dealt with 9/11.

Chris Ryecart, Harwich, Essex

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