In the latest of a series of a gaffes, recent comments by Secretary of State Karen Bradley MP on the actions of British soldiers in Northern Ireland during the Troubles have led to calls for her resignation. Bradley’s comments came while the Northern Ireland Office and the courts were pursuing the latest attempt to engage with the complex and sensitive legacy of the Troubles.
“Over 90 per cent of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists, every single one of those was a crime,” Bradley told the House of Commons. “The fewer than 10 per cent 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.”
The Secretary of State’s comments drew outrage given that they were said in the context of a discussion about the behaviour of the Parachute Regiment 1st Battalion in Derry City on the day of Bloody Sunday. Bradley would later apologise, saying: “I referred to deaths during the Troubles caused by members of the security forces. The point I was seeking to convey was that the overwhelming majority of those who served carried out their duties with courage, professionalism and integrity and within the law.
“I was not referring to any specific cases but expressing a general view. Of course, where there is evidence of wrongdoing it should always be investigated, whoever is responsible. These are, of course, matters for the police and prosecuting authorities who are independent of government.”
Bradley faced calls to resign from both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland, with former Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt MLA saying that Bradley “consistently demonstrates she isn’t up to the job” of Secretary of State. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA called for Bradley’s resignation and accused her of “publicly interfering with the rule of law”.
In two separate statements, Sinn Féin Vice President and leader in the Assembly Michelle O’Neill MLA said that Bradley’s statement was a “resignation matter” and that the Secretary of State “gave the game away, she exposed that the British Government’s real intent is about protecting their own, protecting British soldiers from prosecution”.
The week after Bradley’s comments, one soldier was charged for his alleged actions during Bloody Sunday. With his identity protected, the man named as soldier F was charged with two counts of murder and four counts of attempted murder.
Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that only people in the “armed forces” or “law enforcement” were being investigated for their roles in killings during the Troubles. However, figures obtained by the BBC in 2017 showed that republican paramilitaries made up the vast majority of PSNI legacy investigations, with 530 out of a total case load of 1,188 attributed to republicans. In contrast, 354 were attributed to security forces.
Against this turbulent backdrop, the Northern Ireland Office is continuing its analysis of the public consultation period on its ‘Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland’s Past’ document. The consultation ran from 11 May 2018 to 5 October 2018 after being extended past its original September deadline.
The stated goal of the document and consultation is to “find the best way to meet the needs of victims and survivors and to help people address the impact of the Troubles in the areas of information, justice and acknowledgement and help Northern Ireland transition to long term-term peace and stability”. The consultation covered four proposed Stormont House Agreement mechanisms: the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval; the Historical Investigations Unit; the Oral History Archive; and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group.