Bloody Sunday

Ó Dochartaigh, Niall (2010) ‘Bloody Sunday: Error or Design?’ Contemporary British History. 24 (1) 89-108. or

Ó Dochartaigh, Niall (2010) ‘Bloody Sunday: a calculated confrontation? Slugger O’Toole, June 15, 2010.

Ó Dochartaigh, Niall (2010) ‘Politics of Bloody Sunday left untold’. Guardian. 16 June 2010.

Ó Dochartaigh, Niall (2010) ‘Saville missed the failures of leadership’. Sunday Business Post. 20 June 2010.

O Dochartaigh, Niall (2010) ‘Bloody Sunday: no plan, no conspiracy?’ Derry Journal, 25 June 2010, p.18.

O Dochartaigh, Niall (2010) ‘Bloody Sunday: cock-up or conspiracy?’. History Ireland 18 (5), pp.40-43.

Ó Dochartaigh, Niall (2005) ‘Bloody Sunday in context’. In From Civil Rights to Armalites: Derry and the Birth of the Irish Troubles, 2nd edn. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

February 2005 Interview on BBC Radio Foyle’s ‘The 9 Line‘ on the second edition of From Civil Rights to Armalites.

Ó Dochartaigh, Niall, ‘Bloody Sunday: it could all have turned out differently’, The Irish Times, November 20, 2004, p.13.

‘War within war revealed in Bloody Sunday inquiry‘, The Sunday Business Post, November 24, 2002, p.15.

The book ‘From Civil Rights to Armalites’ analyzes the escalation of violence in Derry in the three years prior to Bloody Sunday. The first edition of the book, published in 1997, only included a paragraph on Bloody Sunday. It didn’t seem necessary to add to Eamonn McCann’s devastating critique of the Widgery Tribunal in his 1992 book Bloody Sunday in Derry: what really happened.

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry established in 1998 provoked new debates on the context for the actions of soldiers on the day with some commentators arguing that this context provides much of the explanation for their actions. This context included an intense sense of threat from the IRA, regular killings of soldiers in Derry and the need to make split-second decisions in life-threatening situations.

civ-rights-coverBut troops in Derry had faced such situations regularly over the previous six months, sometimes at dead of night in the heart of Creggan estate as they launched raids into the no-go areas. Only occasionally did they kill people.

In the second edition of Civil Rights to Armalites I argue that context is crucial to understanding the events of that day, but in a very different way than that suggested by some of those concerned to defend the actions of soldiers. I detail the regular negotiations and communications between the security forces and a range of forces in the Catholic community over the three years prior to Bloody Sunday aimed at averting major confrontations or reducing violence. These communications were often surrounded by intense secrecy.

In the weeks before Bloody Sunday intensive and frantic efforts were made once again to utilise these channels to avert confrontation. These efforts were clearly and decisively rejected at the highest levels of the British army command structure in Northern Ireland. The significance of this rejection can only be fully understood in the context of army behaviour on previous occasions in the city when the army relied on key figures to broker arrangements which allowed for short-term reductions in violence.

It is possible to trace a direct line from the secret channels of communication which developed in Derry in the months and years before Bloody Sunday and which were utilised in attempts to reduce confrontation on the day, and the channel of communication central to the brokering of the IRA ceasefire of 1994.

As violence escalated in Derry in 1970 and 1971 Brendan Duddy, a Derry businessman who had been deeply involved in the intense political debate and activity around the civil rights movement, developed a close cooperative relationship with the RUC chief in Derry, Chief Superintendent Frank Lagan, a Catholic from Co. Derry who was unhappy with the Stormont government policies of internment and rearming the RUC and who was prepared to make efforts to avert or reduce confrontation by restraining security force activity. At the same time Duddy had extensive contacts in the Official Republican movement, with Catholic moderates and Nationalist party politicians and with two senior figures in the Provisional Republican leadership, Daithí O Conaill and Ruairi O Brádaigh.

Duddy has testified credibly to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry that Chief Superintendent Lagan asked him to request assurances from the Provisional and Official IRA about their behaviour on Bloody Sunday. Duddy’s credibility derives to a great extent from the fact that for the following two decades he was the central figure in a closely-guarded channel of communication facilitating secret contact between the British government and the leadership of the Provisional IRA. Dealing with MI6 and later MI5 agents on one side and the Provisional Republican leadership on the other, Duddy played a central role in the secret communication and negotiation around the IRA ceasefire of 1974/75, in the secret negotiations between the British government and the Provisional Republican leadership in 1990-1993, and at several other key junctures in the conflict. The channels used in attempts to avert confrontation on Bloody Sunday were the embryonic form of perhaps the most important, long-lasting and secretive channel of communication between the British government and the Provisional Republican leadership.

I expand on these arguments in ‘Bloody Sunday in Context’, a new chapter in the second edition of From Civil Rights to Armalites which draws on extensive interviews with Brendan Duddy, who spoke on the record for the first time in thirty years about the origins of these contacts.

See also Derry

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