Reflections on Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry

27 May

I was a teenager when Bloody Sunday took place in Derry on 30th January 1972. In some ways it seems a long time ago since the details of the events filtered through our black and white TV at home that Sunday night. Nearly 40 years later, this incident has been captured in the minds and lives of so many people. For those family members who lost loved ones, for those who were physically injured and psychologically traumatized, we can only try to imagine how these years have been for them.  The reminders of the day have been constant during these 40 years, in the form of media imagery and representations, the posturing of politicians and national and international attention of researchers from a broad range of disciplines. The gaze of the world is once again upon the families and Derry community with the forthcoming, long awaited, publication of the Saville Inquiry.

Many difficult years have passed since that Sunday night in front of the TV in 1972. It has been convincingly argued that the events of Bloody Sunday can be described as a watershed moment in the history of the Troubles. Nearly 500 people died that year, IRA recruitment and activity grew, as did the State response. Some 20 years later I was fortunate to become supervisor of a PhD carried out by Patrick Hayes, who left Derry as a boy to emigrate with his family to the USA in the 1950s. Patrick used a qualitative, narrative approach to examine the views and feelings of family members whose relative had been killed on Bloody Sunday. Reading these profoundly moving accounts helped me reflect upon the way my identity had been shaped during the Troubles that followed Bloody Sunday, and also forced me to explore the incident in its wider contexts – political, legal, psychological and social work responses to helping victims and survivors of political conflict. Patrick concluded that the content of some of the narratives suggested a degree of post-traumatic stress, particularly amongst the first generation of family members. It also seemed to be the case that the way the story was told may by the first generation may have mediating consequences for the well-being of second generation family members.

Patrick and I captured some of the key findings in a 2005 book Bloody Sunday, Trauma, Pain and Politics (London: Pluto).  At the end of the book we tried to speculate what the future might be like if and when the Saville Inquiry was published; we now wait with great interest upon the findings of the Inquiry on the 15th June.  There are no easy answers to the myriad of problems that followed Bloody Sunday, not least the great difficulties that the families and local communities have faced since 1972. Bloody Sunday was like many other tragic events during the Troubles, but also different, particularly because it was the State that carried out the killings; subsequent events demonstrated how corrosive this can be for the democratic process and body politic. Inevitably the cost of the Saville Inquiry (close to £200m) has intensified and politicized debates about the needs of, and priorities for, victims and survivors of the conflict. There must be many thoughts and feelings amongst family members about what the Saville Inquiry will deliver. For some, a believable truth about what happened on the day will be sufficient, for others only justice and punishment of the perpertrators will do. These are the types of invidious choices that have had to be made when formal truth and reconciliation commissions are used to deal with the past in other parts of the world. There seems little doubt, however, that Saville will not be the solution to all or even any of the complex needs of those who have suffered and that health and social care professional and community organizations must be more flexible in responding to the needs of Bloody Sunday families and the many others who have been traumatized by the Troubles.

Jim Campbell


2 Responses to “Reflections on Bloody Sunday and the Saville Inquiry”

  1. nicola carr June 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    The Report into Bloody Sunday is finally published today.
    Completed over 12 years the report has concluded that the killings of 14 civilians in Derry in 1972 was ‘unjustifiable’.

    The full report can be accessed here:

  2. smilingcynic June 15, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    When will we hear about General Sir Mike Jackson’s involvement in the bloody sunday massacre. He went on to become the head of the British army. he was also the ground commander on the day. How did he get to the top? Why was he saved? With whom was he in collusion

    The 839 year struggle continuues

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