Lessons of Claudy

In July 1972 nine people were killed when three no-warning car bombs exploded in Claudy, a village just outside Derry City. July 1972 was the bloodiest month of the bloodiest year of the Troubles, but even then the Claudy attacks caused mass revulsion. Now a Police Ombudsman’s report into the bombs has implicated a deceased Catholic priest, Jim Chesney, in the attack. It has also alleged that the state and the Catholic hierarchy colluded to cover up his role.

Like other reports into the events of the Troubles, this one left many questions unanswered and in the aftermath of its publication there have been calls for a “truth commission”, along the lines of the South African Truth Commission which met after the end of Apartheid, so that the real story of the Troubles can emerge.

The working class would have much to gain from the facts emerging through the fog of war. The conditions that led to conflict in the early 1970’s – sectarian division, poverty and despair – have not disappeared. The peace process has solved none of the underlying problems. The future depends on creating a mass political alternative which unites working class people around the shared aim of a better life. Such a new movement will only succeed if there is a searching examination of the past.
The reality is that a truth commission would not reveal the whole truth. The issues and the incidents in dispute are historical in the strict sense that years or even decades have now passed since they occurred, but they are alive and dangerous because the conflict has only ebbed, not ended.

The main players in the conflict have much to hide. The state, for example, acted in its own interests throughout the Troubles. It utilised naked repression, as when it gunned down unarmed protesters on Bloody Sunday. It colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of many dozens of Catholics – a handful were republican activists, most were not. It covered up murders carried out by republicans if the republicans in question were in its pay. The leaders of both the DUP and the UUP today were prominent in the leadership of the Vanguard movement in 1972, threatening violence on the streets. 

The IRA denied responsibility for Claudy in 1972 and has never admitted responsibility since. This is not an isolated case. It has never acknowledged dozens of incidents, for example the Kingsmills’ massacre when ten Protestants were killed in a sectarian attack, and it will not do so now.

One of the truths of the Troubles is that thousands of working class activists – trade unionists and socialists – stood against the drift towards sectarian conflict in the period 1968-1972. A new generation of activists will be thrown up by the struggles of the coming months and years. These activists will be crucial in the battle to create a new mass party of the working class and in opposing and combating sectarianism. A full understanding of the past will aid them in reaching political positions which unite not divide working class people. Reports and enquiries which fudge the truth do not aid this necessary process of understanding.

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