Government says thoughts are with Bloody Sunday families on 'difficult and emotional day'

John Kelly comforts Alana Burke at the Guildhall in Derry. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

The Irish Government has said its thoughts "are with the families of those who were killed and injured" by the Bloody Sunday shootings after just one of 16 soldiers were told they face criminal charges over what happened.

In a deeply controversial decision this morning, the UK's Public Prosecution Service said a soldier given the identity soldier F would be charged for the 1972 killings of 14 unarmed civilians during a civil rights protest in Derry.

However, the PPP said 15 other soldiers also implicated in what happened would not face criminal charges.

The decision has led to polarised opinions underlining the extremely sensitive nature of the shootings and their consequences.

In a statement this afternoon, the Irish Government said its thoughts "are with the families of those who were killed and injured".

"The Irish Government has noted the announcement today by the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland that following a PSNI investigation, one former soldier will be prosecuted for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell on Bloody Sunday in 1972.

"Our thoughts are with all the families of those who were killed and those injured on Bloody Sunday, for whom today will be another difficult and emotional day.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is keeping in contact with the families at this time on behalf of the Government.

"All victims’ families deserve, and must have access to, effective investigations into killings that took place, and have the opportunity to find justice in accordance with the law and regardless of the perpetrator."

Relatives march to the Guildhall (Niall Carson/PA)
Relatives march to the Guildhall (Niall Carson/PA)

In a similar statement, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin acknowledged families will be disappointed at the PPP decision, but emphasised how they are showing "great dignity".

“There will be a lot of families today extremely disappointed following the publication of the PPS Report today, but they continue to show great dignity.

“The PPS report will have to be studied very carefully and today is not a day for knee jerk reactions as it is crucial that legacy issues are dealt with in detail by both the Irish and British governments.

“Since the murder of the 14 people in 1972 the journey to this point has been a long and tortuous one. Indeed, it took many years for the British government to eventually acknowledge state involvement in any murders.

“This process has been very worthwhile so that the people who were murdered are never forgotten and also to inform all people on this island of the bitter history of Northern Ireland before the Good Friday Agreement was finalised in 1998.

“It is clear from what Mr Stephen Herron said that the PPS had difficulties considering evidence that was not admissible due to the strict rules and he also added that the rules on probability are greater than standard criminal cases.

“This is why other mechanisms can assist the families if both governments could agree to establish them.

“Notwithstanding the families’ inevitable disappointment today, the prosecution of Soldier F is significant given the denial of the British government for many years.

“The families of the victims should be honoured for their determination, dignity and continued bravery on behalf of those who were so brutally murdered and they will continue to be supported," Mr Martin said.

A minute’s silence at the Guildhall (Niall Carson/PA)
A minute’s silence at the Guildhall (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill echoed the comments, saying the verdict does not change the fact Bloody Sunday was "a massacre of the innocents".

"The decision to prosecute just one ex soldier does not change the fact that Bloody Sunday was a massacre of innocents.

“On behalf of Sinn Féin I want to pay tribute to the Bloody Sunday families whose long, painful campaign for truth and justice has been a source of inspiration for so many.

“Your determination and your dignity over the past 47 years has been remarkable and Sinn Féin has been proud to stand with you throughout that time.

“It is because of your tireless efforts over many decades that the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday is now known throughout the world.

“Bloody Sunday was a massacre of innocents. Today’s decision does not change that.

“There is of course huge disappointment that only one former soldier has been charged with two counts of murder and four attempted murders.

“We share that disappointment and the sense of incredulity at this decision, given the clearly established facts about the actions of the British Army on Bloody Sunday.

“But even the fact that one former soldier is to face trial is a significant achievement. I also commend the dignity and solidarity shown by the families today in response to the decision. As they said themselves, justice for one family, is justice for them all.

Families embraced after the march (Niall Carson/PA)
Families embraced after the march (Niall Carson/PA)

“We are mindful also that the British military and political establishment of the time have never been held accountable for their role in Bloody Sunday and the subsequent Widgery cover-up.

“That is as wrong now as it was then. The British State must be answerable for the crimes it has committed in Ireland. And it is appalling that the British Defence Secretary announced today, in response to this decision, that his Government intends to amend the legacy system to protect former state forces.

“That is typical of a government that continues to cover up its role in the conflict here and still delays the establishment of the Legacy mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House Agreement.

“For now though, this is a day to commend and offer our ongoing solidarity to all the Bloody Sunday families and campaigners.

“Your strength and your remarkable achievements have been a source of hope for so many still fighting for truth and justice. Today is another step forward in your ongoing struggle.”

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