Opinion: 50 years of bloody sunday – brexit threatens peace in northern ireland

The massacre in Derry is seen as a turning point in the Northern Ireland conflict. peace has reigned for a quarter of a century – a success that must now be defended against new threats, says david ehl.

First stones flew, then sharp shots were fired on the outskirts of derry’s old town

British elite soldiers murdered defenseless irish nationalist catholics: the bloody sunday on 30. January 1972 is often used by the nationalist camp in Northern Ireland to stylize themselves as victims and martyrs. Just as often, however, it has been instrumentalized to explain the murders of the "Irish republican army" (IRA) and other terrorist groups, which together accounted for about two-thirds of the more than 3,500 murders in just over 30 years of conflict.

One way or another, the events exactly 50 years ago in Northern Ireland’s second largest city, (london)derry, went down in history as a turning point: in a politically charged atmosphere, British soldiers shot 13 unarmed participants in a civil rights demonstration. As far as we know today, the commanders wanted to show toughness and demonstrate the state’s monopoly on the use of force. The result, however, was that mutual hatred between the Irish Catholic nationalists – who feel more a part of the republic of Ireland – and the mostly Protestant unionists – who favor remaining in the united kingdom – grew even further. The IRA recorded a large number of new recruits and continued the spiral of violence: 1972 became the bloodiest year in the entire conflict, with almost 500 deaths.

Thoroughly worked up – but not in court

Of the more than 3,500 murders committed during the conflict in Northern Ireland, only a few have been as thoroughly investigated as the fatal shootings on Bloody Sunday: it is the only event in British history to have been investigated by two judicial commissions at the same time.

DW editor david ehl

The hastily drafted first investigation report from april 1972 probably only served the purpose of exonerating the soldiers. The saville report, however, presented 38 years later, reconstructs the events in detail and leaves no room for doubt: the paratroopers fired on civilians with live ammunition without any emergency – 13 British citizens were murdered on behalf of the British government.

in 2010, after the report was completed, david cameron, then prime minister, asked for forgiveness. For the bereaved families who had fought for so long against the tendentious presentation of the first report, this was an important stage victory. But today, 50 years after the day of fate, it is more uncertain than ever whether even one of the deadly shooters will ever be prosecuted for it.

Boris johnson’s dangerous final stroke

The greatest danger for the further processing of the "bloody sunday" and all the other atrocities of the conflict in northern ireland have been conjured up by the government in london: boris johnson, who admittedly has quite other things to worry about at the moment, has declared that he wants a "clean break" pull under the conflict. Last summer, the government published key points of a statute of limitations that would put a stop to any reappraisal. Investigation and trial of state actors would be impossible, even ongoing trials would be abandoned. outraged protests against this full stop came from all corners of northern irean civil society.

Even the name of the venue is controversial: nationalists say "Derry, many unionists say "londonderry

Whether these far-reaching plans will ever become law is uncertain. but already the proposal shows once more: johnson is using the sledgehammer method in northern ireland – although due to the conflict much more delicate tools would be appropriate.

New fuel after the brexit

Unionists have already taken a hammer blow, especially the conservative DUP party, which leads the Northern Ireland regional government with its Irish nationalist coalition partner sinn fein. The DUP campaigned in 2016 for the united kingdom to leave the eu, hoping it would tie Northern Ireland more closely to the uK economically and politically. That’s what johnson promised when he took office – before he dropped Northern Ireland like a hot potato to satisfy British brexit hardliners.

Former enemies who now join hands – symbolized by the sculpture "hands across the divide in derry

Today, thanks to an additional protocol in the withdrawal treaty, Northern Ireland is de facto still part of the EU’s internal market, while trade with Great Britain is more difficult. For Northern Ireland, this has certainly paid off in the first brexit year – think of the numerous supply bottlenecks in Great Britain. But for unionists, it’s a major betrayal. Their camp is politically divided, and so it is conceivable that sinn fein will triumph in the regional elections in may – in other words, the irish nationalist camp that now sees itself in a position of strength after decades of oppression and is now confidently calling for a unification of northern ireland with the republic of ireland.

In Northern Ireland, all this is creating new frustration in a society where large sections still feel they belong to one of the two camps. 50 years after bloody sunday mutual distrust and bitterness are still high. But for nearly half of the 50 years since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there has been relative peace in Northern Ireland. First and foremost, brexit and the discussion it has triggered about reunification, but also imprudent steps such as the amnesty plans, harbor new dynamite. But the overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland does not want new violence and instability at any price. Peace will be tested – the politicians and the people of Northern Ireland will have to prove that they have learned from history.

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