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Government must not pander to Sinn Fein over Troubles probes, insists Fallon

Theresa May

The Government can no longer "pander" to Sinn Fein over how it deals with Northern Ireland's past, a former defence secretary has said.

Writing in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, Sir Michael Fallon claimed that a one-sided witch hunt against British soldiers is a "craven surrender to Sinn Fein", and suggested that a line had to be drawn.

His comments came after Prime Minister Theresa May spoke out in the House of Commons on Wednesday, saying the current system of dealing with the past in Northern Ireland is "patently unfair".

Mrs May also told MPs the only people currently being investigated over Troubles incidents were former security force members.

That claim appears to run contrary to figures published by the police and prosecutors in Northern Ireland last year.

PSNI statistics indicate more of its legacy resources are deployed investigating paramilitaries, while a breakdown of cases taken by the Public Prosecution Service in recent years shows more have been pursued against republicans and loyalists than security force personnel.

But writing in the Daily Telegraph, Tory heavyweight Sir Michael cautioned against the reinvestigation of Army operations during the Troubles.

"Many of these allegations relate to events that took place over 40 years ago or even longer.

"Nobody in their right mind would have suggested in the 1990s that we reopen allegations of misconduct by British or American troops on D-Day or in the Battle of Normandy," he said.

"Who can now be precise about what they may have seen or heard on a dark, rain-swept night in West Belfast in 1971 or 1972? How could any judicial proceedings that might flow from an investigation possibly be fair to those involved, given lapses in time and memory?"

He said that "instead of pandering to Sinn Fein, there is a better way", suggesting that there should be a "clear distinction" between soldiers "risking their lives to protect others" and the terrorists who were "happy to blow up or maim entirely innocent civilians".

"It should be a sufficient defence for any soldier facing these allegations that they were carrying out what at the time they honestly believed to be their duty," he said. Sir Michael also suggested that no re-investigations should happen unless new evidence has emerged, and also that there should be a time limit.

"That may well be painful for both communities in Northern Ireland where there are families still unsure how exactly their loved ones died. But if the Province really is to find a lasting peace, at some stage a line has to be drawn," he wrote.

Meanwhile, the sister of a man shot dead by soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in 1972 reacted angrily to Mrs May's comments.

Kate Nash, whose brother William was among 14 innocent people shot dead, said: "What Theresa May is saying is clearly wrong - there hasn't been more than a handful of soldiers that have faced due process for their actions during the Troubles."

She vowed that any attempt to stop possible prosecutions of the soldiers responsible for Bloody Sunday would be fiercely challenged.

"If they do I can assure Mrs May and her Government that we will challenge that in the strongest terms possible," she said.

Last night the BBC reported that it had seen a 27-page document which it claimed is part of the NIO's public consultation process on legacy.

The document does not mention a statute of limitations nor is there any reference to funding for legacy inquests, it was reported.

It says the Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) will "likely have 1,700 deaths to look into and would aim to complete their work in five years".

It also mentions an Oral History Archive which would collect recorded memories and stories about the Troubles in one place set up by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph