in my view

The Paras hide from the truth


ANY CAMPAIGN that unites William Hague, Vera Lynn, Michael Winner, Norman Tebbit, Frederick Forsyth and the right wing press has to stink to high heaven. This shower, along with various generals and Tory has-beens, have joined the Daily Mail's "Don't Betray the Paras" campaign.

The Mail put Lieutenant-Colonel Derek Wilford on its front page last Saturday-"I'll Go To Jail, Says Bloody Sunday Colonel". Wilford says that if his men are not given anonymity in the Bloody Sunday inquiry, due to start in September, then he will not give evidence and is prepared to go to jail for contempt. This is the same Wilford who commanded the Parachute Regiment that shot down 13 unarmed protesters in Derry in January 1972.

The army and its friends want to scupper the Bloody Sunday inquiry, so they have manufactured a dispute about anonymity. Norman Tebbit says, "Unless these men are granted anonymity, the IRA will be given, by courtesy of the government, a hit list of victims." But hold on, Norman, haven't you forgotten one important fact? The IRA is on a ceasefire. There is a "peace process" going on. There is no evidence that the IRA would target soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday. In fact the Republicans have every interest in making sure the truth comes out about the massacre.

Tebbit contrasts the position of the Paras with the immunity given to the IRA over the bodies of the "disappeared", those killed by the IRA for being suspected of collaborating with the British army at the height of the war in the 1970s. But let's not have any crocodile tears from Tebbit. These people would not have died if the British army had not been in Northern Ireland. The army deployed "counter-terrorist" methods against the IRA which included torture and blackmail to get people to inform. The information would then be used to murder Republicans. Many of the "disappeared", although killed by the IRA, were victims of the British state's dirty war. The IRA is not trying to hide anything. Indeed it is giving up what it has hidden.

That spirit is entirely absent from the Mail's campaign. The reasons are plain to see. Bloody Sunday was a mass execution of unarmed civilians of the kind that George Robertson would be the first to condemn if the Serb forces had carried it out in Kosovo. The Paras opened fire on people running away. People were shot as they crawled for cover. It was suggested that the Paras had "run amok". In fact all the evidence points to a cold blooded and pre-planned operation to "teach the Catholics a lesson".

When Lord Widgery was appointed to the initial inquiry, he was told by Tory prime minister Edward Heath that "we were in Northern Ireland fighting not just a military war but a propaganda war". The Widgery Report cleared the Paras of blame. No one has been bought to justice for Bloody Sunday. The establishment showed its approval for the massacre by awarding Commander Wilford an Order of the British Empire in the following New Year's Honours. "It is wrong that protection is given to deliberate, sadistic murderers", fumed Tebbit in the Mail last week. I'm sure the Bloody Sunday families couldn't agree more.