Interview with Dennis Bradley
by Brian Tierney Filmed by Colm Shiels
Transcribed by Georgina Halbrook and Joy Backora
Q: What did people expect when they set out to march in 1972?
Dennis Bradley: Obviously a lot of people marched in that particular march, we're talking about 20-30,000 people, so there was a lot of different feelings. The main focus was one of protest. A protest against what was happening at the time, particularly against internment. Against some of the treatment that had been meted or given to people who had tried to protest against internment. For example, there had been a march a week before to McGilligan Camp, where some people were interned. The British army had treated people there with a fair amount of aggression and hostility. I think that made people on the outside very angry. They felt that in some way their right to protest had been taken away from them. That they were to some degree being cowered down. That their very lively and very valid anger was taken away from them. So a lot of people just came on the streets. The Civil Rights grouping, as it was in existence at that time, had been rather dormant - it hadn't been doing a whole lot.
But this was almost an opportunity to establish the civil rights movement which had declined to some degree. So people came out in their thousands to protest. They said we have the right to protest, we have the right to make our feelings felt, we have the right to walk on the streets, we have the right to make our point of view known. I think those were the main reasons why people think they went out with any great intrepidations. I think that there was some fear because on the march itself a lot of army and a lot of British army had moved into the place in great numbers and ringed off the 'Bogside' - as the place had become known. It was very oppressing, both in the sense of the troops around the place, heavy barricading, things like the mesh wire, things like barbed wire, a lot of tanks on the outskirts of the city and so forth. So perhaps there was a little bit of intrepidation that something might happen. But no one really had any idea as to what would really happen.
Q: What was the atmosphere like on the day?
Dennis Bradley: The atmosphere was reasonably relaxed, reasonably down beat. People had taken up and joined the march either in Creggan or somewhere along the route. I joined it along the route because I was doing something else and a little bit late getting there, so I myself joined it along the Lecky Road. And then when it came to the bottom of Rossville Street ( the junction of Rossville St.. and William St.) where the barricade was, where the army was in situ - where they stopped the march. There were so many thousands of people there they couldn't move forward so they began to disperse and to take up different positions - just chatting, fairly relaxes. A small riot had broken out so people were just hanging out at Rossville St.., Glenfada Park, the back of the flats - positions within that fairly large geographical area. They were just chatting. I think that many of them had then gone on the Free Derry Corner where the meeting was going to take place. It was originally going to take place in the Guildhall Square. So you had a mixture of people just hanging out. You had other people going over to stand to listen to the speakers at Free Derry Corner.
Q: When did you first realize that something was wrong?
Dennis Bradley: I realized that something serious was happening when I heard shooting. I actually was about to leave Glenfada Park, along the Lecky Road. and I suddenly heard shooting. We had heard some shooting in the previous months, but this was a little bit more than the ordinary shooting, this was a lot of shooting. We suddenly began to hear and see tanks beginning to rush into Rossville Street. And when I looked out of Glenfada Park I saw three bodies lying on the ground on Rossville St.. It was at that moment that I knew something very, very serious was happening.
Q: There are all sorts of theories as to what happened on the day. What do you think?
Dennis Bradley: What I think now is that the head of the British Army, a man called General Ford, had decided that he had had enough of what was called 'Free Derry' at the time - what he would have described as 'lawlessness'. What he would have described as 'people out of control'. I think that he was perhaps the person most responsible for deciding to bring in the paratroopers , that he brought them in from Belfast on that particular day. I don't know if he was in cohesion or cooperation with anyone in the government. That remains to be seen. That is what I hope will come out of the New Inquiry. I think he (General Ford) decided to give people a lesson. I think he thought that his troops could- and there is some evidence for this - kill a few people and that the IRA would engage his troops. The troops they would engage would be the British Paratroopers who would take out the core or the greatest number of the IRA who were existent in the Bogside at that particular time. I think that what he didn't calculate on was that the IRA were not there on that particular day. What the paratroopers ended up doing was killing a group of people who were around the age of people who would have been considered to be in the IRA. I think it is quite appropriate that there were no women killed, although there was a lot of women out that day on the march. There were no priests killed - there were a lot of priests there on that march. There were no children killed, although there were a lot of children on that march. I think if you look at the ones who were killed they were all in the age range on 20-45 years of age and they were all male.
Q: What did you think when you heard about the New Inquiry?
Dennis Bradley: I was very pleased. I think it was reasonably courageous of Tony Blair, who is the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the moment, to allow the New Inquiry, because by allowing the New Inquiry what he was saying was that the original inquiry, which was called the Widgery Inquiry was in fact redundant, was not properly conducted, its findings were not sustainable. I think that the very act of allowing the New Inquiry was a very big act of submission of having gone badly wrong in the first inquiry, so I was delighted, particularly for the families and the people who had been killed because I think what was important about Bloody Sunday was that the people who were killed were innocent people and it is important that no stain or cloud of guilt or wrong-doing be attached to those people. So I think that the beginning of a New Inquiry is hopefully an acknowledgment that the first inquiry, which was the Widgery Inquiry, had either not got to the truth or not wanted to get to the truth.
Q: What do you hope to see to come out of the New Inquiry?
Dennis Bradley: I hope that the full truth is established. I hope that the people who were killed, that their names will be cleared. I hope that there will be in some way some reconciliation for the family members. That they at least can say, "Well it is clear that my father (or brother) who was killed was an innocent man." I'm hoping that they will then be able to leave Bloody Sunday behind. But you can't really walk away from anything where such a great injustice was done. And that injustice has never been acknowledged, admitted, or even owned up to.
And I'm hoping that the New Inquiry will actually establish the facts - claim the people who were killed to be innocent people. That they weren't throwing nail bombs, they weren't throwing petrol bombs, that they weren't doing anything to allow anybody to take away their lives. That they were people out in their own streets protesting, something which was completely valid to protest about and to make their feelings known. I think that at that stage we then can consign Bloody Sunday to the history books.
Q: Do you think that for there to be justice in the New Inquiry that there needs to be some kind of prosecution? Is that something which is important to the families?
Dennis Bradley: I think that the names of their loved ones being cleared is the most important thing. It is possible that at some point during the New Inquiry that people will be fingered for actually being responsible for murder and therefore liable to prosecution. Now in the climate that we are now facing in the north of hopefully some kind of reconciliation, some kind of leaving the past behind. Leaving it behind with some clarity. I personally think it is more important that someone claims the responsibility for the deaths that happened on that day, or someone is handed the responsibility - whether it's General Ford or some type of political grouping within the establishment at that particular time. I think it's important within the cause of history that people do not do things like that and go off scott free. Now whether we're meaning that someone should end up in jail for it, I think 25 years on, that's difficult and that it would then be up to the families, not to someone like me. It's easy for me to be objective, to be calm, but if you're a family member you may feel a bit different than that.