Northern Ireland

Bloody Sunday Inquiry 'diminished' by delays and cost

An inquiry of unprecedented length, cost and detail, the Bloody Sunday Tribunal is likely to have important ramifications for public inquiries in the future. BBC News looks at the lessons which will be learned.

Eight years after he wrote an enthusiastic article about the Bloody Sunday Tribunal and its legal implications, Professor Dermot Walsh is now disillusioned, believing that Saville's findings have been "seriously diminished" by the length of time it has taken to compile them.

The law lecturer at the University of Limerick explains that the purpose of such an inquiry following an event like Bloody Sunday is to restore public confidence in government that has broken down.

It is inherent, he adds, that it should happen "as quickly as possible".

He said: "The report is going to come out almost 40 years after these shootings.

Undermine

"The relevance of Saville's findings are seriously diminished as a result of the delay. He is not responsible for the whole 40 years but it took him 12 years to make his findings. In my view, it seriously undermines the whole purpose in having a tribunal."

The implication of that is that Saville had an alternative option, a method of inquiry that would have fulfilled his remit while taking less time.

While Professor Walsh is reluctant to assert a definitive alternative for this specific case, he says exactly where he feels Saville may have gone wrong and thus areas from which future inquiries may wish to steer clear.

"I suppose he was partly the architect of his own misfortune.

"He took each victim, not just the 14 that were shot dead, but the others who were wounded, and indeed looked at other shots that perhaps did not find a target.

"He examined each one as a separate issue, almost as though it was a prosecution.

"To try to do that, to my mind, is virtually impossible and in some respects not necessary. He is going outside the scope of an inquiry."

'In the round'

Professor Walsh argues that he question of identifying which individual soldiers fired which shots at whom is one which is best left to the Public Prosecution Service and the courts.

What Saville should have done, he says, is to look at things "in the round".

"Get a feel from eyewitness evidence, from ballistics, get a feel from the photographic evidence, get a feel from the photographic evidence whether what really happened here was a military operation gone wrong resulting in unnecessary and unjustifiable deaths and shootings.

"You can look at it in the round without establishing definitively whether each soldier was justified for the actions he took in the circumstances that he saw them.

"If Saville had taken that approach, then the inquiry would have been much shorter and cheaper."

In any case, Professor Walsh believes that the Saville Tribunals will be the last of its kind and that, he argues, will be no bad thing.

Public inquiries, he says, should be "rare" and a "last resort" as a proliferation shows that something is wrong with the normal judicial system.

"Normally when conflict or public concern arises over some aspect of government, it would be resolved through the courts or the democratic process.

"If we are calling for inquiries more repeatedly, then we really need to ask what is so wrong with our courts, what is wrong with our democratic process that persuades us we need inquiries every time something goes wrong?"