DUBLIN — Divisions flared in Northern Ireland’s cross-community government Friday about police plans to open a criminal investigation into Bloody Sunday, a watershed event in the territory’s conflict 40 years ago when British troops killed 13 Irish Catholic demonstrators.
The Protestant who leads the 5-year-old coalition, Peter Robinson, said police must investigate what his Catholic colleague atop the government, Martin McGuinness, was doing as an Irish Republican Army commander on that day 40 years ago.
The comments represented a rare moment of discord between Robinson and McGuinness about the latter’s murky IRA past.
Robinson said McGuinness ‘‘openly admitted that he was in charge’’ of IRA forces in Londonderry at Bloody Sunday. ‘‘If that was the case then there has to be an investigation, if you’re investigating the [British] Army.’’
The episode shows how scarred Northern Ireland remains from its four-decade conflict, which left more than 3,200 unsolved killings, most of them committed by McGuinness’ Provisional IRA. That dominant IRA faction renounced violence and disarmed in 2005, a prerequisite for McGuinness to become joint leader of Northern Ireland’s government two years later.
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, a British-government ordered investigation into the Jan. 30, 1972, killings in Londonderry’s Bogside district, took 12 years and nearly $300 million to produce a 2010 report concluding that soldiers of the British Army’s hardened Parachute Regiment gunned down unarmed protesters without justification. Prime Minister David Cameron issued an immediate apology but none of the troops who opened fire that day has ever been charged with any crime.