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NIO chief's killings call sparks storm

By David Young

A fierce row erupted yesterday after Secretary of State James Brokenshire said Troubles inquiries were placing too much focus on ex-soldiers and former RUC officers.

Unionists applauded his comments, saying that the current process was weighted in favour of paramilitaries.

But nationalists reacted with anger, with Sinn Fein saying it was “despicable” that he had made the remarks on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Northern Ireland Office chief said: “I am clear the current system is not working and we are in danger of seeing the past rewritten.

“It is also clear the current focus is disproportionately on those who worked for the state — former members of the Armed Forces and the RUC, the vast majority of whom served in Northern Ireland with great courage, professionalism and distinction.

“I believe that with political will an agreement is within reach to deal with this important and sensitive issue.”

Police are re-investigating all deaths from the Troubles and a number of ex-soldiers are facing prosecution over Troubles killings.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Secretary of State was correct when he said the current system is not working and he must now act decisively to address this.

“We want no more prevarication and no veto handed to Sinn Fein,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie, himself a former soldier, agreed that the current process is weighed in favour of paramilitaries.

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie, “I think the point that the Secretary of State is making is that — although 10% of the killings during the Troubles were done by State forces, and 90% by terrorist organisations — there seems to be an inordinate amount being spent on tracking down the State forces,” he said.

“That looks unbalanced.”

At the same time, Mr Beattie insisted that there could be no equivalence between soldiers and terrorists.

“They are not the same, and I do not want them to be the same,” he said. “But there must be protections put in place for the military, in the same way that they are for the terrorist.

“We must look at that — that’s where balance must come into it.

“Soldiers acted on behalf of the state: they had no choice.

“So there can be no equivalence — but there has to be balance.

“There needs to be an inquiry to make sure that there are the same protections in place for the soldiers who were combatants, in the same way as there is protection for paramilitaries and terrorists.

“I don’t mean an equivalence — I’m not calling for an amnesty — but there needs to be some level of protection for them as well.”

But Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney lambasted Mr Brokenshire’s remarks on the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday as offensive and despicable.

Mr Kearney said: “Today James Brokenshire once more sought to justify the impunity conferred on state forces during the conflict.

“It is both offensive and despicable that he chose the anniversary of Bloody Sunday to do so.

“The British government is desperately trying to write itself out of its responsibility for the conflict, and to obscure its central role in the conflict.”

But SDLP spokesman Alex Attwood said Mr Brokenshire’s comments “beggared belief”.

“This week the DPP and Lord Chief Justice respectively asserted their independence and defended due process and the rule of law in the face of false claims to the contrary,” he said.

“This weekend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should publicly be out fully on the same message.

“The fact that he chooses otherwise, to repeat false claims, is deeply troubling.”

Alliance’s David Ford said Mr Brokenshire’s comments “come perilously close to interfering in the rule of law”.

Last week, the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said any suggestion he had chosen to give priority to Troubles inquests involving the State was “simply not correct”.

And Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC denied allegations that Troubles prosecution cases involving former soldiers were unfairly prioritised by his office.

 He said: “We have taken decisions in three army cases recently, one was not to prosecute and in the other two prosecutions have been initiated.”

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