Derry watched this week. We stopped, collectively as a city, and we waited. We held our breath and even though the town was thronged with the world’s media it still felt eerily quiet.
No one wanted to speak - no one dared to guess what would or could or might happen. I had tried to explain it to my son that morning as we drove to school. Radio Foyle was on - the journalist in me unable to ignore that the biggest story of my career so far was unfolding on our door step.
“Why are they talking about something which happened years and years ago?” he asked.
I told him a wrong had been done. That the army had come in and shot innocent people in Derry and that it was important that the truth was told.
“But mammy,” he said, “the army are supposed to be there to protect people if they are in danger. Why did they shoot people instead?”
I guess that question, from the mouth of a child - someone who was born 32 years after the events of Bloody Sunday - says it all.
I admit that me - who is usually never stuck for words - struggled to answer his question.
Indeed it took 38 years, and almost £200million for someone to find an answer to the question we have all been asking. The army were supposed to protect people if they were in danger. Why, indeed, did they shoot people instead?
What the army did on that day in Derry was wrong. We always knew that and now the highest figure in country has publicly admitted it. And then they lied about it, and the British government lied about it and it took the strength of 14 families, and the determination of a city, to make them admit they were wrong and say sorry.
Of course to a six year old’s mind, those who do wrong must say sorry. It’s one of the first and most important lessons we teach our children. He looked at me, the confusion still etched across his face and asked why had they not said sorry before?
He’s too young perhaps to understand the politics of the time. Thankfully my children are being raised in a city far changed from that I was raised in the 70s and 80s. We don’t see soldiers on the streets any more. It is not a common occurance to walk down the street and find that a solider has been tracking you with their gun. There are fewer check points. There are certainly fewer bombscares. The air is not so filled with the buzz of helicopters and a drive to the beach on a sunny day no longer involves a long queue in traffic waiting to pass through an army checkpoint and wondering if you were going to be searched. The news, thankfully, is not filled with the same local atrocities as it once was.
I’m grateful for his innocence. I’m certainly very grateful for the life my children live where things are as normal as they can be. I am grateful that they are not in the stranglehold of sectarianism but yet when he asks such questions I do him no favours to brush them aside.
What this city went through - as painful as it was and is - must always be remembered. Those who marched for civil rights on Bloody Sunday - both those who did and didn’t come home that day - must never be forgotten.
The determination of the families of the dead, and of the injured, must be explained to all who can listen. Yes, our children deserve to have their innocence protected but they also need to hear the truth about our past - just as the whole world did on Tuesday.
It would be easier to change the subject and talk about something less painful - but ignoring the truth does not make it go away. Thankfully we have all learned that lesson.
Of course questions will be asked about whether the cost of the inquiry was justified. Questions will be asked as to why it took 12 years from inception to the production of the report. Questions will be asked as to why it took 38 years for the world to acknowledge the truth that the people of Derry knew from the moment the first casualty fell.
In basic terms yes, it should have been unnecessary - because as my six year old would tell you those who did wrong should have just said sorry straight away.
But given that they didn’t - and given that they concocted lie upon lie to justify their own murderous actions - it was of course the very least the people of this city deserved.
To paraphrase the words of Lord Saville himself, the killings were unjustified and unjustifiable. Therefore the inquiry - whatever the cost - was both justified and justifiable. Even my six year old agrees.
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