Anger as two ex-Paras face court for 1972 shooting dead of notorious IRA commander
The Ulster Unionist Party has slammed the prosecution of two former paratroopers for the 1972 killing of an Official IRA chief, claiming it showed the judicial system was "in favour of the terrorists".
Yesterday the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) announced that two men identified as Soldier A (65) and Soldier C (67) would be prosecuted for the shooting of Joe McCann.
McCann was one of the Official IRA's most prominent activists before being shot in disputed circumstances by the Army at Joy Street in the Markets area of Belfast.
In February that year he was part of an assassination attempt on Stormont UUP MP John Taylor, and was considered by the security forces as a dangerous terrorist.
An Historical Enquiries Team report from three years ago found his killing was not justified.
The ex-soldiers involved were later informed the matter had been passed to the PPS for consideration.
The UUP justice spokesman Doug Beattie, a former soldier, argued the prosecutions would add to a perception that parts of the judicial system "have become unfairly weighted against the forces of the State, and in favour of the terrorists".
The solicitor for McCann's widow Aine welcomed the decision, saying: "This is some measure of justice after all these years."
Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly added that "no one should be above the law", and that McCann's family "have been campaigning for more than 40 years and they are entitled to justice".
Mr Beattie said that while "anyone who broke the law should face the law", he added there should be limited sympathy for McCann.
"There is absolutely no account taken of context or the conditions under which the security forces were operating," he said.
"Joe McCann was a dangerous and ruthless terrorist. He had been involved in several killings, was involved in the attempted murder of the then Stormont MP John Taylor, and intelligence reports confirmed he would regularly carry a weapon."
He added: "As a career terrorist, he was the local IRA commander and was top of the RUC most wanted list, with expectation that Joe McCann would not surrender without a fight. Therefore, it is absolutely understandable that soldiers may well have felt that their lives and the lives of their colleagues were in danger and opened fire within the rules of engagement, also known as the 'yellow card'."
Mr Beattie added that, in 1972, 496 people were killed in Northern Ireland, with 280 attributed to republicans and 86 as a result of security force action.
Mr Kelly said: "This is now a live case and those charged, like everyone, are entitled to due process.
"But it does highlight the fact that no one is or can be above the law, regardless of how long ago the incident took place."