On this date in 1972, 14 people were shot dead by British paratroopers in Northern Ireland. The shootings occurred at a massive march in the city of Derry or (Londonderry) on this day. It was organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and the marchers were protesting against the British government’s use of internment without trial. During the march, some stones and bottles were thrown by protestors at British soldiers and local police. The security forces, then claimed that they were shot at and in response they opened fire.
The British paratroopers shot 26 people and killed thirteen. A fourteenth died some months later. Investigations later showed that several people had been shot in the back as they were trying to run away from the scene. Many people claimed that the British soldiers had opened fire on peaceful protestors and that they had murdered them in cold bold. The British government claimed that the troops had only acted in self-defence.
Bloody Sunday was to be a turning point in the Northern Irish Troubles. The origin of the Northern Irish Troubles lay in the partition of Ireland in the early 1920s. The island was portioned between a Catholic South and a mainly Protestant North. Northern Ireland was dominated by the Protestant majority and Catholics were regularly discriminated against it. The Catholic minority had begun to demand equal rights in Northern Ireland from the early 1960s. The Protestant majority saw this as a threat and this began a cycle of sectarian violence. In 1969 sectarian rioting engulfed Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the turmoil began to attack British army units and the local security forces. They wanted to end the partition of Ireland and to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic. The Protestant Majority wanted to keep Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Various Protestant terrorist organizations regularly assassinated Catholics during the years of the troubles.
Bloody Sunday was a turning point in the Northern Irish Troubles. Many Catholics angered by the killings began to support the IRA. In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, violence increased and bombings and shootings became part and parcel of everyday life. The British government set up a commission to investigate the killings on Bloody Sunday and this found that the soldiers had opened fire after being fired on. This caused outrage in many circles and the commission of inquiry was denounced as a ‘whitewash’. A second inquiry was established in 1998 and after 12 years of deliberations, it found that the killings on Bloody Sunday were unjustified and illegal.
The Troubles in Northern Ireland continued until 1998. They were ended by the Good Friday Agreement and this established a power-sharing arrangement between Catholics and Protestants in the province. This arrangement has generally brought peace to the province but occasionally extremists carry out bombings and shootings.