On Christmas Day 1971, People’s Democracy and Sinn Fein broke the ban on marches. On 2 January NICRA announced it would follow suit. The ‘illegal’ marches compounded establishment rage.
Civil Rights protestors from Derry met the Paras for the first time a week before Bloody Sunday, when they were batoned off the beach during a peaceful protest near Magilligan Prison. The spot was chosen because there were internees in the prison, and also because marchers could not be accused of threatening damage to property while marching on an open beach. (Eamon Melaugh)
On 22 January hundreds from Derry attended a NICRA march to Magilligan internment camp. Film of British paratroopers assaulting marchers on Magilligan beach further inflamed feeling. NICRA announced a Derry march for 30 January.
The unionist government, now led by Brian Faulkner, demanded the British break Free Derry. Two unionist MPs resigned, citing a “softly-softly” approach to no go areas. The British Commander of Land Forces, General Robert Ford, wrote of a possible need to “shoot selected ringleaders” of young Bogsiders.
On 27 January the IRA killed two police officers in a Creggan Road ambush.
On 28 January a British cabinet committee approved security plans for the Derry march.
On 29 January an Army/police statement warned that any violence the next day should be blamed on march organisers. Rioting in William Street ended with teenagers Peter McLaughlin and Peter Robson wounded by army gunfire.
The next morning, reports came of paratroopers arriving in Derry.