The quick answer "A big boy made me do it"
Yesterday's report singles out for criticism the 1st battalion of the Paras, including its commanding officer, Lt Col Derek Wilford. "1 Para was a force with a reputation for using excessive physical violence," it says. Lord Ramsbotham, then military assistant to General Carver, chief of the defence staff, has described the Paras as "shock troops", suggesting they were hardly the troops best suited to civilian policing operations.
How cynical. It is all very well now to suggest that they had a reputation and hardly best suited to civilian policing operations. They most certainly had a reputation when I was in Northern Ireland between '70 and '72. It was for getting a job done.
A number of regiments came to the Province determined to pursue a hearts and minds initiative. They would liaise with local personalities such as clergymen and local council members. Considerable time and genuine effort was expended discussing what was best for the community and the right way to go about it. The tea and buns debates did not, obviously, attract the local hard men and terrorists but they were very interested. A quiet life allowed them to recruit, train and equip their local forces without too much interference from intelligence gatherers and such. Sooner or later however, they would decide upon a little evil doings. The murder of a British soldier was good for the cause regardless of whether he came from a peace loving hearts and minds unit or one of the hard-line battalions. The bunfights stopped and the regiment would try and assert its authority within its area of operations.
The terrorists had a head start where there was little local intelligence and the troops may have lost the sharp edge of efficiency from their pre-deployment training so that they were soon on the back foot and lost control. That is when the call went out for Para to come and restore things. They were very forthright and stood no nonsense. They had no time or sympathy for discussion. Terrorists had the choice when they saw the red berets - put their heads down and slink away or go for confrontation. Once the dissidents had backed down, the Para withdrew but left a bad taste in the tea and on the biscuits. That is why some units resisted para being deployed to their areas. Their quiet and uneventful six months tour had been drastically altered.
As for civil policing operations - by the start of 1970 the concept of civil police operations had died. RUC had been forced off the streets and the whole rule of law idea had been set aside. The mission was just to keep the peace between two communities set at each others throats. People were being burned out where their religion was a minority in an area. Streets echoed to the sounds of gunfire where Loyalist terrorists were fighting Republican terrorists. People walking home or moving about alone were liable to being seized and tortured or worse. Hardly a situation that could be dealt with by a good old coppering Hello Hello Hello.
Soldiers are taught to do one thing. Fight. That is what they do. They are most certainly not ambassadors in khaki. The Para were never trained as policemen; a job that may seem very easy but is far from such.
The senior officers in the Province had no excuse not to know the style and tactics employed by the Para battalion. They took no steps to rectify any defect; Bloody Sunday was not the first time that the paratroopers had been sent onto the streets to deal with something that had got out of hand. Londonderry was deemed to have a very competent police chief; his civil police operations did not keep the trouble makers of the march away from stoning barricades. Had he done so, the clash with Para would never have happened.