Legal pursuit of Troubles veterans 'Frankenstein justice', city rally told
Supporters of an Army veterans' rally in Belfast city centre yesterday heard that pursuing soldiers for alleged Troubles crimes was a "witch-hunt" and "a Frankenstein version of justice".
They were told that due to security force actions, hardline republicans had a right to stage a counter-protest just yards away.
The veterans' rally was subject to a counter-demo by supporters of dissident group Saoradh Beal Feirste.
A line of police vehicles prevented the two from coming into contact at Belfast City Hall.
The demonstration against what organisers branded the "legal witch-hunt" of armed services personnel for actions during the Troubles was organised by Justice For Northern Ireland Veterans (JFNIV) and attracted around 150 people.
The main speaker was UUP MLA and Army veteran Doug Beattie.
He said that Irish republicans had "a right to be there. They have a right to walk and they have a right to protest because we fought for their freedom of speech".
"Every step they take, they take because you stood between the terrorist and the terrorised," he added.
He criticised what he called the "imbalanced system".
"We all deserve justice but what we are seeing is a Frankenstein version of justice which is all focused one way," he claimed.
"We do not want preferential treatment. If you break the law then you should face the law."
He said it was important that the Government listened to veterans and did not turn its back on their calls for equality.
"Do not let them tread on your voices. Do not let anyone steal it from you because some, for political ends, will try," Mr Beattie added.
"We have terrorists walking the streets with on-the-run comfort letters and some with royal pardons."
Mr Beattie told supporters that he had met with the families of the 10 people shot dead by British troops in Ballymurphy in August 1971 and that he had no doubt they deserved justice.
Former soldier Jim McCaw told veterans that they were "the lucky ones" and warned that the protests will not stop. "While serving in Northern Ireland we were subject to the rules of engagement while the terrorist fought at will," he said.
In a seeming reference to a comment by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, he added: "Remember, as the man in the beard who was never in the IRA said, we haven't gone away you know."
The former Royal Artillery, UDR and Royal Irish member said that those "who put on a uniform and went out to work not knowing if they would come home again" feel let down by politicians.
Simultaneous events saw thousands gather near Horse Guard's Parade in London, while around 200 veterans took to the streets in Glasgow city centre.
But speaking after the Belfast City Hall protest, Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon said that no one should be above the law.
"There can be no amnesty, no one can be above the law regardless of how long ago the incident took place," she said.
"During the conflict British soldiers operated with impunity, now they want their government to legalise this practice and provide an amnesty.
"Only a handful of British soldiers have ever been convicted or served any time for killing Irish citizens. This further underscores the need to address the outstanding issues around dealing with the legacy of the past.
"Sinn Fein will continue to support the families of victims as they campaign for truth and justice."