‘09 Bloody Sunday march in Brooklyn - Demonstrators seek justice for slain Irish activists killed during massacre

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There were more than one comment on the “luck of the Irish” February 8 as members of the Bay Ridge Irish American Action Association stepped outside to a balmy, almost spring-like afternoon as they began their annual Bloody Sunday march to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica.

“Last week it was 2 inches of snow, today it’s 60 degrees,” said parade organizer Mary Nolan. “If that’s not the luck of the Irish, I don’t know what is!”

“Is it bad luck to bring my umbrella?” asked Bay Ridge City Councilmember Vincent Gentile.

But the few chuckles the marchers had were quickly overpowered by the importance of their mission — demanding justice one of the longest criminal investigations in the western hemisphere.

Thirty-seven years ago, British paratroopers trained their weapons on 20,000 civil rights protestors in Derry, Northern Ireland and opened fire.

Fourteen of the protestors — whose names are represented on the fourteen bone white crosses mourners carry — were killed in a massacre that would forever be known as Bloody Sunday.

Each year, the Bay Ridge Irish American Action Association leads a march to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, where they remembered those who were lost, pray for a lasting peace and celebrate recent positive developments, such as the re-opening of the Saville Inquiry, which many hope will bring some solace to the families of those who were killed.

In annual statement released by the victims families at a commemoration in Derry, Lord Saville was supposed to expected to release the findings of his investigation into the slayings last year.

Instead, the families received letters from Saville informing them that the investigation will take a year longer to complete.

Family members are hoping for the findings this year, and want to make sure that they receive the findings the same time as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does.

If Saville does not hand the families a copy of his findings at the same time “the British establishment, the government and their army, whose actions Lord Saville has been investigating, will have sight of the report long before we do,” they explained in their statement. “They will have plenty of time, definitely weeks, possibly even months, to prepare their responses and their excuses, to maybe even edit the report to suit themselves, while we will be expected to prepare our response to what will be a massive and complicated report in only a few hours.”

Family members said that the marches like the one held in Bay Ridge on Sunday — the only one held in New York — helps keep the pressure on the British government to provide the answers to the family members questions.

“Your support in our fight for justice has kept us going through all these long years,” they wrote.

Yet, to this day, the British government has never apologized to the relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday.

But prayer may have helped.

Each year, Association members pray for change in Northern Ireland. While it moves with the nimbleness of a battleship, change has come to the war torn country, many said.

“There has been a fundamental change in Northern Ireland. They’ve moved beyond the system of violence that once permeated the country. The IRA has laid down their weapons,” said Martin Brennan, an aide to U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and longtime Bloody Sunday marcher.

In a way, the last 37 marches on the streets of Bay Ridge has helped foster that change, he said.

“The struggle for change continues thanks to pressure both inside [Northern Ireland] and out,” he said. “We’re on the outside, but we’re still shining a light on what’s going on over there.”

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