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Sunday, 8 July 2012

8 July 1971: Two unarmed civilians were shot dead the British army in riots in Derry. Welder and former boxer Seamus Cusack, 28 and 19-year-old George Desmond Beattie of Donegal Street, Bogside were both shot in controversial circumstances that further alienated the Nationalist community.

At about 1.00 a.m. on the morning of 8th July 1971, in the Bogside area of Derry City, Seamus Cusack, a local man aged twenty-eight, was shot in the upper part of the leg by a soldier of the Crown Forces. He died about forty minutes later in Letterkenny Hospital in the Republic of Ireland. His death gave rise to further disturbances in the city, and in the course of these, George Desmond Beattie, a youth of nineteen, was also shot by a soldier and died instantly, at about 3.15 on the afternoon of 8th July.

Immediately after the shootings, two totally conflicting accounts of the circumstances of these deaths began to emerge. The British Army maintained that both men had been armed, Cusack with a rifle and Beattie with a nail bomb. This assertion was repeated on 12th July in the House of Commons by Lord Balniel, Minister of State for Defence. Local people on the other hand insisted that the two men were unarmed.

Repeated demands were made for an official inquiry. Opposition MPs at Stormont, in a statement on 11th July, said:

'Our demand for an inquiry is a decisive test of the sincerity and determination of the British Government. If it is not granted, then as publicly elected representatives we will accept the logic of our position. which is that there is no role we can usefully play within the present system.’ 

When their demand was not met, these MPs announced their withdrawal from Stormont and the setting up of an alternative assembly.

The shooting dead of two young local men in such controversial circumstances led to further alienation of the local Nationalist population from the British State. But within weeks Internment had been introduced in the North and these killings were just a precursor of an even more violent response to come from the Crown Forces over the following months.