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SDLP leader Colum Eastwood names Soldier F using parliamentary privilege


Colum Eastwood

Colum Eastwood

Colum Eastwood

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has used parliamentary privilege to name Soldier F in the House of Commons.

Mr Eastwood, MP for Foyle, used the legal protection to identify the former paratrooper during a debate on the Armed Forces Bill.

Earlier this month, the families of those killed in Bloody Sunday expressed their disappointment after a trial of Soldier F collapsed in the High Court.

Granted anonymity by the Judge hearing the case, he had been accused of murdering James Wray and William McKinney on January 30, 1972, after troops had fired on civil rights demonstrators in the Bogside area of Londonderry and killed 13 people.

Soldier F had also been accused of attempting to murder Patrick O’Donnell, Joseph Friel, Joe Mahon and Michael Quinn as well as a seventh supporting charge of attempted murder that day of a person or persons unknown.

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Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service (PPS) had also said it would withdraw charges against Soldier B for the murder of Daniel Hegarty six months later.

A legal challenge against the decision to withdraw the charges against Soldier F is ongoing.

Speaking during Tuesday's debate, Mr Eastwood said: "Almost 50 years ago, 14 unarmed civil rights marchers were murdered on the streets of Derry by the Parachute Regiment."

He then made allegations against Soldier F and stated a name which has not been included here for legal reasons.

Mr Eastwood added: "For 50 years he's been granted anonymity. Now the Government wants to give him an amnesty.

"Does the shadow minister agree with me that nobody, none of the perpetrators involved in murder during our Troubles should be granted an amnesty?"

It comes as the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis is expected to announce a way forward for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Mr Lewis is due to outline his plans on Wednesday afternoon and it is expected it will include a statute of limitations which would end all prosecutions on cases that took place before 1998.

It's reported that that government sources reject claims this would in effect become an amnesty for army veterans and paramilitaries.

In June, Mr Lewis and the Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney announced a new process from the two governments on legacy which will include input from families of victims, political parties and others.

Mr Lewis said he hoped the process would build on the work of the Stormont House Agreement.

The 2014 agreement has suggested a Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved murders during the Troubles as well as an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval to help families learn the truth of what happened to loved ones.

Reacting to Mr Eastwood naming Soldier F, the former veterans minister and Conservative MP Johnny Mercer called his actions “unnecessary and dangerous”.

“I have never defended this man, but I will defend his right to a fair process. Eastwood should be sanctioned for deliberately mis-using parliamentary privilege.”

Ulster Unionist Party chair Danny Kennedy added: “Two very poor political decisions by SDLP in recent days - court injunction against bonfire & naming Soldier F. Clearly playing populist card within Nat/ Rep constituency but doing enormous damage to community relations in the process. Not good.”

The DUP's East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell, said: “Colum Eastwood’s actions are reckless and downright dangerous. I will be writing to the Speaker and the Commissioner for Standards. The Foyle MP's behaviour falls well below that expected of someone in his position especially when the courts have made clear that to name this person could jeopardise life."

He added: "The DUP does not believe in an amnesty for anyone who perpetrated wrongful actions. Far too many terrorists have already been released early. Everyone must be equal under the law."

Mr Eastwood later justified his position while speaking to the BBC.

“Well I named Soldier F in parliament because for 50 years, almost, the victims of Bloody Sunday have had to struggle for truth and justice.

“They eventually got truth through the Saville Inquiry.

“They’ve been blocked from getting justice every step of the way by the British state and F has been given anonymity for 50 years.

“And now the British Government are about to announce that they’re going to give him an amnesty.

“I think that is absolutely and totally wrong in any country that likes to describe itself as a democracy.”

The Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie and DUP MP Sammy Wilson went further by accusing Mr Eastwood of placing Soldier F's life at risk.

Mr Wilson said the use of parliamentary privilege to name the former paratrooper was "cowardly and dangerous".

"He has put the life of an elderly gentleman at risk in a selfish attempt to out green Sinn Fein. A disgraceful stunt with potentially severe consequences."

Mr Beattie said: "And this achieves what? Stupid just stupid…. A life placed at risk for a bit of ‘look at me’ politics."

It follows a court ruling in June where a judge approved an application to keep Soldier F anonymous and accepted evidence that the threat level against him could increase if he was named.

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