Those responsible for soldiers who killed civilians in Derry on Bloody Sunday must not be allowed by the Saville Inquiry to cover up their role in events, a senior member of the SDLP claimed today.
As the Bloody Sunday Inquiry prepared for more evidence this week in London from former British Prime Minister Edward Heath on the killing of 14 civilians in Derry in 1972, SDLP chairman Alex Attwood asked the judges to ensure those in authority in the Army, Ministry of Defence and Government did not let soldiers of a lower rank take the blame for what happened.
Speaking from London where he is attending a march to mark the 31st anniversary of the shootings this week, the West Belfast MLA paid tribute to the “dignity and decency” of the relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday.
He also attacked and accused some people of trying to evade responsibility for what happened.
“Even now the Army, Ministry of Defence and the Government should ‘come clean’,” Mr Attwood argued.
“There is a growing risk that a few soldiers and officers will be blamed to avoid those of greater authority and responsibility being named.
“There should be ‘no cover-up’ for any person – political or military to frustrate the truth.
“The British government and its ministries who have not demonstrated such resolve need to do so.”
Controversy has dogged the army over the past 31 years about the deaths of 14 people as a result of Bloody Sunday – 13 people were shot dead by the Parachute Regiment on the day of the killings and another died months later from injuries.
A comprehensive inquiry into the events has been taking place in Derry and London before a panel of judges chaired Lord Saville of Newdigate.
The inquiry has sat for 288 days so far at a cost of £95m (€143m) to the British government and is expected to conclude early next year at an estimated final cost of £155m (€233.25m).
The tribunal has been examining all aspects of the events leading up to, during and after Bloody Sunday including allegations that the security forces planted nail bombs on the body of one of the people killed and claims that the IRA opened fire on soldiers.
Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, former nationalist SDLP leader John Hume, Democratic Unionist leader the Rev Ian Paisley and civil rights campaigners, Eamonn McCann and Bernadette McAliskey are among those who have appeared as witnesses.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is also scheduled to appear.
The SDLP’s Alex Attwood, who visited the hearings in London last week, argued there needed to “acts of completion” from the British government, security forces and paramilitaries about Bloody Sunday and other events in Northern Ireland’s turbulent history.
“It is also time for other state and paramilitary human rights abuses to be acknowledged and accounted for,” he argued.
“There needs to be acts of completion around abuses of the past.
“The very many in republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations and others in the army and police uniforms should be called to account.
“Those who carry the deep pain of the past must be heard.
“While many concentrate on acts of completion which are political and paramilitary in nature, the SDLP also believes there must be acts of completion around abuses of the past.”
A round of events in Derry marking the 31st anniversary of Bloody Sunday gets under way tomorrow, with an exhibition focusing on the conflicts in Northern Ireland and between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Debates, film screenings, plays, anti-war vigils are also planned in the city this week, culminating in a rally in memory of those killed next Sunday.