BELFAST (Reuters) - The priest who waved his white bloodstained handkerchief at British troops on “Bloody Sunday” in 1972 in what became one of the enduring images of the Northern Irish conflict, died on Monday aged 82, the Irish Catholic church said.
Edward Daly, who went on to become a bishop and peace campaigner, was shown on television around the world leading a group of men carrying a dying youth past British troops who had opened fire at a crowd of Catholics after a protest march, killing 13.
Daly, who went on to spend 19 years as Bishop of Derry and decades as a peace campaigner, died early on Monday, the Irish Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.
His testimony about the events Bloody Sunday helped garner public opinion to the side of the protesters.
It was rejected by the British authorities at the time, but was proved accurate in a 2010 inquiry that concluded that the civilians had been killed without justification, prompting an apology from Prime Minister David Cameron.
The 1972 killings changed the course of the “Troubles” that erupted in the late 1960s, boosting the Irish Republican Army’s violent campaign for Northern Ireland to secede from the United Kingdom and become part of the Republic of Ireland.
A 1998 peace deal, brokered after more than 3,600 had died, has largely ended the conflict that pitted mostly Catholics, who wanted a united Ireland, against Unionists, mostly Protestants, who wanted it to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Daly campaigned for innocent victims of the “Troubles”, including the Birmingham Six, who were wrongly convicted of bombing two pubs in the city and spent 16 years in jail in one of Britain’s most notorious miscarriages of justice before being acquitted in 1991.
“Bishop Edward will be remembered as a fearless peace-builder,” Archbishop of Ireland Eamon Martin said in a statement. “His untiring advocacy ... earned him respect from some, suspicion from others.”
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who has admitted to being an active Irish Republican Army member on Bloody Sunday, said Daly had been “a constant right through the course of the last 40 odd years,” noting he had been critical of the IRA as well as all other sides in the conflict.
James Brokenshire, Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: “He was an iconic figure in civic life, and he will long be remembered as a cleric who worked tirelessly to promote peace for all.”
Reporting by Conor Humphries and Ian Graham; editing by Giles Elgood