The Bloody Sunday Initiative was formally established in August 1989. Its primary purpose was to focus national and international attention on Bloody Sunday as a justice issue.
The 1990s were to prove eventful as far as human rights issues in the north were concerned. With the Guildford Four released, attention turned to the Birmingham Six – who were accused and convicted of detonating IRA bombs in two Birmingham pubs. They had, by this time, served almost sixteen years.
The release of the Birmingham Six the following year, in March 1991, became a catalyst for many relatives in Derry to become active around Bloody Sunday. The BSI was the only group in Derry which had actively campaigned for the Birmingham Six’s release. They then organised the homecoming for Derry man Johnny Walker after sixteen years in jail, with a huge reception at Free Derry Corner. People began to sense possibilities in the air.
Some months after the release of the Birmingham Six, Channel 4 broadcast a programme about Bloody Sunday as part of its ‘Secret History’ documentary series, which challenged the Widgery findings and fuelled renewed debate around the issue. Over the next few years, public attitudes towards Bloody Sunday began to shift.
The twentieth anniversary saw the biggest commemoration march since 1973. Coinciding with the anniversary was the launch of Eamonn McCann’s book, Bloody Sunday: What Happened in Derry, commissioned by the Bloody Sunday Initiative (BSI) and published by Brandon Books. Regarded as one of the seminal books on the issue, McCann’s book helped to renew interest in Bloody Sunday and contained a background analysis of the events leading up to the killings and a remarkable series of interviews with relatives and friends. McCann’s book generated much needed interest in the subject and, more importantly, brought the families together for the first time, igniting the embers of defiance.
Twentieth anniversary commemorations were not confined to Derry. A huge march was held in London, calling for British withdrawal from Ireland. Rock star Peter Gabriel voiced support for the demonstration, alongside MPs Peter Hain, Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn, filmmaker Ken Loach, journalist John Pilger, poet Adrian Mitchell and Gerry Hunter and Billy Power of the Birmingham Six.
The possibility of sustained campaigning about Bloody Sunday came up repeatedly during the 1992 commemorations. The seeds of the campaign were sown.