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26 January 1998

To Hell with Blair's apology

The following LM statement is being distributed at events around the UK commemorating the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on 30 January, when British troops opened fire on a civil rights demonstration, murdering 14 marchers


Bloody Sunday was neither a mistake nor an accident. Every independent inquiry into the slaughter that day led to one conclusion: that British paratroopers opened fire on unarmed nationalist demonstrators with intent to kill. The massacre was a deliberate and well-planned operation aimed at terrorising a risen people.

Now Tony Blair looks set to apologise for the massacre. If a waiter in a restaurant deliberately poured a plate of food over your head, you would take it as an insult. If he then said sorry for what he had done and carried on with his work, you would treat his apology as a double insult. For Blair to apologise for a deliberate and premeditated massacre is a monstrous insult to the Irish people, and to the friends and relatives of those who died. The only reparation Britain can make for Bloody Sunday is to get out of Ireland. That is one thing which will not happen.

For Blair, the apology will be a moment of glory, not ignominy. Tony Blair enjoys apologising. He has already apologised for the Famine, he ordered the Queen to apologise for the 1919 Amritsar massacre in India. He is now planning to wheel the old woman around all the former colonies apologising for British crimes. It will give him pleasure to apologise for Bloody Sunday because it will demonstrate to the world what a magnanimous, sensitive fellow he is, the man who proclaimed the dawn of the 'The Giving Age'. An apology from Tony Blair is as precious as a compliment from a drunk.

What would an apology do for nationalists? Would it take British soldiers and police off the streets or put a stop to the sectarian slaughter now engulfing the North? Of course it would not. What would it do for the British government? An apology would increase British authority, not diminish it. The British will appear to the world as the patient, caring social worker who occasionally gets it wrong but who at the end of the day has at heart the best interests of her quarrelsome charges.

And where do all these apologies leave the IRA? In their ceasefire statement of 1994 the loyalist gangs offered their 'heartfelt sorrow' to the victims of their murder campaign. This means that although they are back in the slaughter business, they too have entered The Giving Age. It is easy for the British and loyalists to apologise. The oppressor can carry on with his business while spouting empty words. For the oppressed to apologise however would be a grave mistake. It would brand with shame all those who fought and gave their lives for the cause of Irish freedom. Yet this is the price that will be paid before Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness can sign themselves up as fully-fledged members of 'the healing process'.

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