Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill and SDLP leader Colm Eastwood have paid tribute to the Bloody Sunday families for their “long, painful campaign for truth and justice.”
Speaking after the PPS announced that it was prosecuting only one former soldier in connection with the killings, Ms O’Neill said that “does not change the fact that Bloody Sunday was a massacre of innocents.”
“On behalf of Sinn Féin I want to pay tribute to the Bloody Sunday families whose long, painful campaign for truth and justice has been a source of inspiration for so many,” she said.
“Your determination and your dignity over the past 47 years has been remarkable and Sinn Féin has been proud to stand with you throughout that time.
“It is because of your tireless efforts over many decades that the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday is now known throughout the world.”
She added: “There is of course huge disappointment that only one former soldier has been charged with two counts of murder and four attempted murders.
“We share that disappointment and the sense of incredulity at this decision, given the clearly established facts about the actions of the British Army on Bloody Sunday.
“But even the fact that one former soldier is to face trial is a significant achievement. I also commend the dignity and solidarity shown by the families today in response to the decision. As they said themselves, justice for one family, is justice for them all.”
Echoing a statement from the Bloody Sunday families, Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader insisted that “the British military and political establishment of the time” must be held accountable for their role in Bloody Sunday.
Mr Eastwood said the PPS announcement “marks another difficult day for families in their campaign for truth, justice and accountability.”
“Today’s announcement from the Public Prosecution Service is another difficult day for many families who wanted to see those responsible for the murder of their loves ones face the full force of the law. They will be incredibly disappointed today.
“This campaign for truth, justice and accountability has been met with prevarication, equivocation and obstruction at every level. In sharp contrast, the unshakable dignity and solidarity of the families has been immense,” the Foyle MLA said.
“I welcome the decision to prosecute Soldier F. The absence of prosecution for others is not, however, a vindication of their actions. They remain unjustified and unjustifiable.
“As Mayor of Derry, I walked proudly with the Bloody Sunday families as we received the Saville report. We will continue to stand with them as they campaign against the heinous wrongs that have been committed against them and against our community.”
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Clare Bailey commented: “The many people bereaved and affected by Bloody Sunday deserve access to justice after decades of denial.
“The judicial process must be allowed to run its course without political interference or pressure from any source.
“There are thousands of people affected by the conflict right across these islands and indeed beyond. Many haven’t had any sense of justice or truth recovery and many have died with unanswered questions exacerbating deep trauma.
“The political process has failed these people across the decades. Politicians have not been up to the job of delivering a process for dealing with the legacy of our past.
“That’s why I reiterate the call for a comprehensive and independent process for dealing with the legacy of our past. The approach to legacy thus far has damaged our political process, fragmented wider society, and most importantly, has caused further hurt and trauma to many people directly affected by the conflict.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “Today will be a day of very mixed emotions for the families who lost loved ones on Bloody Sunday, and for all of those injured or bereaved in the Troubles.
“My thoughts are with the families, who have faced a long journey over decades in the pursuit of truth and justice, but the journey is not yet over.
“It is now important people respect due process and allow the courts to do their job.”
Also responding to the news that only one former paratrooper will face prosecution, Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Campaigns Manager, said: “It is right that ‘Soldier F’ must now face justice for the shootings. However, with 14 civilians dead and only one prosecution, today’s announcement means that many of those responsible for the shootings will likely never be held accountable.”
She added: “What has been achieved today is a vindication of almost 50 years of campaigning by the families devastated by Bloody Sunday. They should be proud of their mutual support and solidarity over five difficult decades.
“Today is a stark reminder that victims have long been paying the price for the failure of government to effectively deal with the past. We call on the UK Government to ensure there are no barriers to justice and make clear there will be no amnesty for human rights abuses, including those committed by security forces.
“All victims of human rights violations and abuses from Northern Ireland’s conflict have a right to an independent investigation, with the possibility of prosecutions to follow where the evidence leads. To remove this recourse would be a betrayal of victims’ fundamental right to justice.”