MPs disagree over Bloody Sunday as calls emerge for army regiment apology

·5 min read

A British Army regiment has faced calls to apologise over Bloody Sunday, as MPs clashed in the Commons ahead of the tragedy’s 50th anniversary.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood (Foyle) told the Commons the Parachute Regiment is “yet to apologise and condemn the actions of their soldiers” in the Northern Irish city in 1972.

But Conservative former defence minister Johnny Mercer criticised Mr Eastwood for suggesting troops were sent with the “express purposes of murdering the people who lived in Derry”.

The disagreement came either side of Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling the Commons that Northern Ireland must reconcile and build a “shared peaceful and prosperous future” as the anniversary approaches.

Thirteen civil rights protesters were shot dead by British soldiers on January 30 1972.

Another man shot by paratroopers on the day died four months later. His death was officially attributed to a brain tumour.

It is understood that Taoiseach Micheal Martin will lay a wreath at the memorial to the victims of Bloody Sunday as part of a service in the city this weekend.

Mr Martin will also meet the families of those killed in 1972.

Speaking at Northern Ireland questions, Mr Eastwood said: “Fifty years ago this week the Parachute Regiment were sent to my city to murder 14 people.

“People who were unarmed, marching for civil rights.”

He added: “Last weekend Parachute Regiment flags were flown on the outskirts of Derry.

“The Parachute Regiment rightly condemned the flying of those flags as a grossly offensive act against the victims of Bloody Sunday.

“But yet, they have yet to apologise and condemn the actions of their soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. Does the Secretary of State think they should?”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “We, as the Government, have to accept responsibility for what has happened in the past. When things are wrong we need to be clear about that, as we have been. It’s right that we have apologised for that.

“I’ve added my own personal apology to the Government’s for that.

“That is something we also need to ensure, that we are all working together to find a way forward to ensure that people are clear that violence is not an answer to anything in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.”

Mr Mercer later raised a point of order in the chamber to say: “The member for Foyle made an extremely incendiary allegation that British troops went to his constituency in the 70s with the express purposes of murdering the people who lived in Derry.

“We all have a responsibility in this place around the language we use. Legacy is extremely difficult to deal with.”

He asked for guidance from the Speaker to “put a stop to this behaviour” in the Commons.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle acknowledged these are “very sensitive issues” and recalled at the start of Northern Ireland questions he had advised MPs to exercise caution on such matters.

He added “nothing disorderly has occurred” as no details or names of those involved had been referred to by Mr Eastwood.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said in a statement: “In 2010, the Chief of General Staff (Gen Sir David Richards) fully supported the Prime Minister’s apology on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, the Army and those involved and this remains the Army’s position.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson echoed the words of Mr Lewis when he said: “This Sunday marks a tragic day in our history, this was one of the darkest days of the Troubles, and it’s the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

“I echo his call to learn from the past, to reconcile and build a shared peaceful and prosperous future.”

Mr Lewis also faced questions about dealing with legacy issues.

He said: “Any system for addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past must focus on delivering for those most impacted by the Troubles, including victims, survivors and veterans.”

Adding that, following stakeholder engagement, “we are reflecting carefully on what we have heard and we remain committed to addressing the issue through legislation”.

Mr Mercer said: “There is a landing zone for victims, for veterans, that will address the grievance industry that’s been built up in Northern Ireland off the back of people’s horrendous experiences, and actually deliver a lasting legacy agreement so that Northern Ireland can move forward.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson called for there to be “no moral equivalence between our armed forces, our police, and the terrorists of the IRA and other paramilitary groups”.

Mr Lewis said: “I can be very clear, and as a Government we are clear, that we will never accept any moral equivalence between those who upheld the law in Northern Ireland, those who as I say went out every day to protect life and to do their service, in comparison to those from any point of view who went out every morning to destroy life and to destroy Northern Ireland.

“They must never be allowed to win, and there can be no moral equivalence.”