On January 31st 1972, the day after the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry, the British Guardian newspaper published an editorial calling for renewed peace efforts in Northern Ireland:
Ulster: How, when and whether peace may be possible
The disaster in Londonderry last night dwarfs all that has gone before in Northern Ireland. The march was illegal. Warning had been given of the danger implicit in continuing with it. Even so, the deaths stun the mind and must fill all reasonable people with horror. As yet it is too soon to be sure of what happened. The army has an intolerably difficult task in Ireland. At times it is bound to act firmly, even severely. Whether individual soldiers misjudged their situation yesterday, or were themselves too directly threatened, cannot yet be known. The presence of snipers in the late stages of the march must have added a murderous dimension. It is a terrible warning to everyone involved.
This tragedy again throws into relief the apparently endless Irish problem. Is Ulster to be seen only as a land of bigoted Protestants facing rebellious Catholics? Or as a land of beleaguered Protestants who will not be coerced into joining the South, facing alienated Catholics who have never accepted the North? How far is its poverty responsible for the depth of its divisions and misery? Events like yesterday’s most delay and make immensely more difficult the approach to a peaceful settlement. Yet a settlement must be approached. The majority of Catholics and Protestants would probably by far prefer to live at peace and on tolerant terms with their neighbours.
For the British, too, a peaceful solution would be a vast relief. But for the British it is no solution to get out and leave the place to a bloody civil war. Nor is it a solution to say “release the internees”, for that only leads back to more fighting in the streets and more bombing. You do not resolve the problem by saying that the Ulster Opposition must talk to the Unionist Government, because just now they won’t. Nor do you resolve it by saying that Stormont is the elected Government and Stormont must decide.
So where do you start? Any solution must include at least three elements: security, a timetable for talks and ending internment, and a program of economic aid. Security at this stage is primarily a matter for the army. Longer-term, it must be covered in any agreement that is reached at multilateral talks. At this stage, it means trying to keep the two communities from each other’s throats, trying to stop the shooting and damp down the demonstrations, and trying to prevent intimidation on either side. It is a thankless task but it has to be kept up. The army now has at least the encouragement of seeing that it is beginning to secure control in Belfast. Londonderry was always more difficult, and last night will have made it worse. Even so, a peaceful settlement still has to be discussed…