In Derry, relatives and campaigners embarked on a citywide campaign. All involved were novices, but they quickly embraced their roles.
After decades of comparative silence, previously disheartened relatives had the opportunity and the impetus to speak up, to share their grief and argue their case. Collectively, they were to prove an unstoppable force.
Bishop of Derry, Dr Edward Daly – the priest whose image waving a bloodstained hankie would become synonymous with Bloody Sunday – pledged his support to the campaign. So too, did John Hume, leader of the SDLP at the time. Hume would later become the only person to receive the world’s three most prestigious peace awards – the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award.
On Saturday 20 June 1992, the campaign launched a new postcard initiative urging British prime minister John Major to reopen the case. Family members set up a stall on Waterloo Place in Derry where they sat, often huddled under umbrellas, speaking to local people and handing out the postcards. Each of the pre-addressed cards listed the three demands, and the public response was phenomenal.
The campaign was already gaining attention in the USA. In August 1992, relatives of the fourteen people shot dead received commemorative parchments issued by the City Council of Chicago following the passing of a resolution remembering the Derry dead.
Although the campaign lobbied relentlessly, their requests were often met with disdain and indifference. Mary Robinson, President of Ireland at the time, refused to meet family members or lay a wreath at the Bloody Sunday memorial during a visit to Derry in September 1992. Campaigners also found that the Protestant church leaders, while generally sympathetic, wouldn’t publically support them.
In October 1992, six months into the campaign, the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign announced it was to seek legal advice to ‘help prepare the case of murder against those responsible.’ Campaigners contacted Madden & Finucane Solicitors in Belfast, initiating what was to become a long relationship with the firm.
The Bloody Sunday families, as they had collectively become known, were often at pains to stress that the BSJC was a family-led campaign, a fact that was not always accepted by the Catholic Church, the Irish government or Derry City Council at the time. There was no apparent support for the families’ efforts. In October 1992, families sought the support of Ireland’s Catholic Cardinal, Cathal Daly, and were shocked when he declined to meet them. As did Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey later that year.
Intent on seeking support outside Derry and, particularly in Britain, relatives contacted the London-based human rights group, British Irish Rights Watch. After discussions with BIRW director Jane Winter, she agreed to research and draft a report to the United Nations.
In Derry, the work continued unabated, with campaigners thinking up increasingly novel ways to fund their endeavours with dinner dances, concerts, raffles and campaign collection boxes throughout the city. One major source of funding was the Catholic, Irish-American organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH).
The campaign organised public meetings and provided speakers for events in Derry, Belfast and Dublin. For many, it was a full-time job; there was always work to be done, people to lobby.