LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland (CN) – Kate Nash is a small, bustling woman – the kind of woman who might be a favorite aunt, the kind of woman who tells you family secrets and family lies. In her case, as an outspoken campaigner in this city still scarred by decades of sectarian violence, Nash talks about secrets and lies involving Bloody Sunday, the 1972 massacre that defined the conflict in Northern Ireland.
She hurries into the Museum of Free Derry – a place dedicated to Bloody Sunday and what happened in Derry, as it’s called by Catholics, during the Troubles. It’s a wet spring day, and she’s dressed in a pink coat and clutching an umbrella.
She ever so slightly shakes her head. “They don’t like me in here,” she says in an undertone, quietly, a mischievous glint in the 70-year-old’s eye.
The museum, she says, is unofficially run by Sinn Féin and its supporters, and she says they’ve clashed over the years on a number of issues. She helps organize a march to commemorate Bloody Sunday and has pushed for investigations into what happened.
Sinn Féin is a dominant Northern Irish political party and also the former political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, the paramilitary group that fought to overturn British rule in Northern Ireland.
She is here, though, to talk about the past and the present: about how her 19-year-old brother William was among 13 civilians killed by British soldiers on Jan. 30, 1972, during a Bloody Sunday civil rights march and about the pending prosecution of the first, and only, British soldier to be tried for murder in connection with the deaths in the massacre. Her father was also seriously wounded that day. The trial starts on Wednesday.
She begins to walk through the museum.
“Bloody Sunday happened in broad daylight in front of the world press,” she says. “And there’s nothing quite like that. This is what [the British government] have been trying to cover up.”
The museum is a gallery of film footage and photographs, many of them gruesome, depicting the scenes of what happened on Bloody Sunday and in its wake.
“I remember scenes like this,” she says, pausing in front of a photograph depicting a row of coffins of Bloody Sunday victims inside a church. Mourners are pressed together.
“Sadness and anger, to tell you the truth,” she says about what she feels as she looks at the photographs of funerals. “It’s the cover-up.”
Bloody Sunday was one of the most significant events during the decades-long conflict over Northern Ireland. Widely condemned as an atrocity, the killings fueled the sectarian conflict and gave rise to even more support for the IRA.
In its immediate wake, the British government set up a tribunal to investigate the shootings and concluded – wrongly – that British soldiers with the Parachute Regiment came under attack by IRA gunmen and returned fire. The same regiment is now under scrutiny for committing another massacre in Ballymurphy, a neighborhood of Belfast, in August 1971.
It wasn’t until 1998, the same year that the Belfast-Good Friday Agreement was signed and ended the Troubles, that a second investigation into Bloody Sunday was begun. In 2010, the inquiry released its findings and declared the soldiers fired on unarmed civilians and that the killings were unjustified. The inquiry, known as the Saville Report, is Britain’s longest and most expensive public inquiry at a cost of about $242 million.
Her brother and father, both dock workers, were not connected to the IRA and were not overtly political, she says, but joined the march that day because they believed it was the right thing to do. About 15,000 people participated in the march.
“We were second-class citizens,” she says about Catholics in Northern Ireland. “We couldn’t vote; we campaigned for that. One man, one vote. That was what the civil rights movement was all about – one man, one vote.”
“They had a system of voting that was very, very unfair,” she continues. “For instance, if you were a businessman, you had 10 votes, but Catholics didn’t own businesses.”
Housing was bad too, she says. “We were all crowded into the areas, and the areas which were, you know, the ghettos. We were like black people in America.”
“[The Protestants] were in all the prime positions, even the electricity grids, they had all those jobs,” she says.
On that cold and sunny January afternoon in 1972, her brother was shot when Parachute Regiment soldiers rushed toward the march in order to arrest people throwing stones and other missiles at soldiers. William Nash was among those throwing stones.
In the space of 10 minutes, the events that shocked the world took place: Thirteen people were killed – a 14th would die later of his wounds – and 14 others were wounded. All were unarmed.
When he was killed, William Nash was near a barricade made of rubble erected in a street in what then was called “Free Derry,” a self-declared autonomous area comprising the working-class Catholic neighborhoods of the Bogside and Creggan. The area was at the heart of the civil rights movement and had become a “no go” zone for British and Northern Irish authorities. Barricades were erected around the neighborhood to prevent raids by Protestant mobs and police.
After William Nash was hit, his father went to his aid and was also shot.
“He was begging them to stop [shooting],” she says. “Witnesses said he came out in a hail of bullets. It’s a miracle my father wasn’t killed that day.”
Later in life, according to his daughter, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and jumped at the sound of smoke alarms, thinking that paratroopers were coming. At times, he had to be sedated, she says.
“He was the same man at home, but he was a sadder one,” she says. “We called it sort of psychosis. It was post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Inside the museum, standing amid all the photographs of violence, Kate Nash speaks out against the British army.
“They were actually here to make war against us,” she says. “As the years passed, I mean, that told its own tale. They actually made war on the people in the North of Ireland.”
She shakes her head. For her, the soldiers who shot her brother and father are getting away with crimes. They are not facing prosecution.
“I was devastated,” she says about how she felt when it was announced in March that only one soldier would face murder charges in connection with Bloody Sunday. That soldier’s identity has been shielded and he is known only as “Soldier F.”
Nash and other family members of Bloody Sunday victims were gathered in a ballroom of a Derry hotel and told about the decision to prosecute one soldier.
“I was on the cusp of breaking down,” she recalls. Her brother cried. She says she put her arms around him. “They decided there was not enough evidence. They never have enough evidence. They’re simply refusing to do their job.”
She looks up seriously. “You see, the law here, I’m sorry, it’s not that the law is an ass, the law is corrupt.”
For her, the British government is unwilling to prosecute criminal deeds committed by soldiers.
“They’re going to put them above the law, that’s the way I see it,” she says. “We should have gotten justice 47 years ago.”
For her, top British politicians are to blame – including Boris Johnson, who now serves as prime minister – because they want to keep soldiers from being prosecuted. “Protection,” she says. “That seems to be the main thing.”
She’s even distrustful of the pending trial of Soldier F. She says he should be facing charges for killing four people, not just two.
What about the lies the paratroopers told investigators? She asks. Why, she asks, aren’t they being prosecuted for perjury? Soldiers told investigators they fired shots because they saw people wielding pistols and came under fire from sub-machine guns, which the Saville inquiry found to be untrue.
“They were shooting after people running away,” she says.
It’s not just British politicians that upset her. She speaks out against Sinn Féin, accusing it of being interested “in lining its pockets” and working behind the scenes with British authorities to not investigate crimes committed during the Troubles.
“They want an amnesty and they all want to go home and do their own thing,” she says. “They want all that wiped out.”
Outside the museum, Kate Nash breathes more freely. It’s obvious the museum stirs a mix of emotions in her, and they are not positive ones.
She points to huge murals on the walls of buildings here at the heart of where the killings took place. They depict scenes and people involved in Bloody Sunday. As she talks, she describes a landscape full of messages and counter-messages; it’s a landscape where different factions have fought over how the Bloody Sunday story ought to be told.
Just then, a woman she knows walks up the sidewalk. It’s Helen Deery, a 60-year-old friend. Deery then tells her own story of murder and injustice: Her 15-year-old brother, Manus Deery, was shot in the head in May 1972 by a soldier perched in an observation tower on the city wall around Derry. The soldier shot her brother while he was standing with a group of friends. An inquest in 2017 found Manus Deery innocent. The man who fired the shot died in 2001.
Naturally, she too feels aggrieved. “There should have been some justice brought to my family.”
Deery leaves, and Kate Nash continues to talk about injustice.
The Saville Report, she believes, wasn’t done to prove the innocence of the victims of Bloody Sunday.
“It was more meant to make [the British army] look innocent because what was the result? Nine rogue soldiers, nine bad apples,” she says.
She accuses commanders of giving false testimony and getting away with it, and says the commanders who allowed soldiers to fire on the marchers aren’t being prosecuted.
“They didn’t go up the chain of command,” she says. “It was all well choreographed.”
She asserts that the British authorities that investigated Bloody Sunday in the 1970s felt hatred toward Catholic Irish.
“Do you know what they called us? They call us in the files, ‘bog wogs,’” she says.
Today, Nash feels that politicians on all sides used the Bloody Sunday deaths for their own purposes.
“We were used as leverage you know. I think we were never intended to get justice. We were never intended to get as far as this,” she says. “They wanted to be in control of victims’ families.”
Derry is a tough place with high suicide rates, alcoholism and rampant drug use. Unemployment is high and sectarian paramilitary activity is ongoing.
“We’re still suffering from the sectarianism,” she says.
Just then, she runs into another friend – another sufferer of violence.
Michael Bridge was shot and wounded on Bloody Sunday by a soldier known in the inquiry as “Soldier N.”
“I still can’t believe it,” he says of what happened.
The 72-year-old man then goes into detail about a personal campaign of his: revealing the lies British soldiers and commanders told about what happened in Bloody Sunday.
“They obstructed due process,” he says, speaking in a heavy Irish accent. “It’s perverting the course of justice.”
He doesn’t think anyone will be prosecuted for lying. “They’re going to say it’s not in the public’s interest to charge these people with perjury,” he says.
Nash then relates how people like her – who have pushed for truth and pushed back against politicians seeking to whitewash it all away – have been demonized.
“My reputation has been destroyed,” she says. “They have said I am an MI5 agent. I’ve been accused of a lot of things,” she says. The MI5 is an equivalent of the FBI in the U.S.
The two friends stand on the street and talk. Bridge points to where soldiers shot. He names the names of the dead and wounded. It’s as though time hasn’t moved on.
Bridge feels wronged. The man who shot him will not be prosecuted. The soldiers and commanders who told lies about what happened aren’t going to be brought to account. Even Britain’s lord chief justice ignored evidence and cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing in 1972, Bridge says.
“There were TV that got it; photographers that got it,” Bridge says about how well documented the day’s events were. “There were witnesses all over the place. The arrogance of it – that they could get away with it, which they did, by the way.”
Before she leaves, Kate Nash says: “Justice and truth. You can’t divide those two.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)