North Secretary Karen Bradley
By Irish Echo Staff
A political uproar has broken out following statement by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley that killings by British soldiers during the Troubles could not be considered as crimes.
Bradley, speaking in the House of Commons, said the killings at the hands of soldiers were “not crimes.”
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Her comment, according to the Irish Times, came in advance of next week’s decision by the North’s Public Prosecution Service as to whether any former British soldiers will be charged over the Bloody Sunday killings.
Bradley was responding to a question from DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly about legacy issues.
Bradley stated: “Over ninety percent of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists, every single one of those was a crime.
“The fewer than ten percent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way.”
Bradley, added the Times report, issued her comments on a day when the British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Ministry of Defence was considering introducing legislation to ensure that British soldiers were not unfairly pursued through the courts.
May, also speaking in the Commons, said that there needed to be changes to the current system of investigating the legacy of the Troubles to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors and to ensure that the British soldiers and police officers were not unfairly treated.
There was sharp political reaction to both Bradley’s and May’s comments.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Bradley’s comments were “absolutely appalling.”
Said Eastwood: “Once again Karen Bradley has exhibited her stunning ignorance about the past. Such comments, albeit always wrong, are particularly insensitive given the Bloody Sunday families await news on whether former British soldiers will be prosecuted for murdering 14 innocent civilians on the streets of Derry.
“Karen Bradley has a responsibility to apologize to families of state violence, as well as setting aside time to read a book on the history of Ireland,” he said.
Sinn Féin’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill said: “The remarks by British Secretary of State Karen Bradley that killings carried out by British state forces were not crimes were outrageous and offensive.
“It follows on from comments by the British prime minster indicating that the British government is planning legislation to protect serving and former British soldiers who may have committed crimes.
“These comments are an insult to families who have lost loved ones at the hands of the British army, state agencies and their proxies in the loyalist death squads which were directed by the British state.
“They will add to the injury caused to these families by the British government’s continued attempts to block access to truth and justice. It is a further alienation of families who have already suffered awful tragedies.
“Karen Bradley’s comments also show contempt for the legal system, including ongoing court cases into legacy cases involving the British state and its forces.
“British politicians cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over the legal system. No one can be above the law and bereaved families, some of whom have been campaigning for almost five decades, are entitled to access to truth and justice.
“These offensive and hurtful comments should be withdrawn immediately. The British government should implement the legacy mechanisms already agreed rather than attempt to continue to thwart justice.”
Solicitor John Finucane, son of murdered attorney Pat Finucane, described Bradley’s words as legally, politically and morally indefensible.
Yet was it “really surprising” to hear a Secretary of State “publicly express the contempt we know the British government had for lives here?” he asked.