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Sister of man shot dead by Army urges Northern Ireland Secretary to quit

Karen Bradley sparked a furore after she said killings by the police and Army during the Troubles were not crimes despite later apologising.

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Karen Bradley was given a number of pictures of Stephen McConomy (Peter Byrne/PA)

Karen Bradley was given a number of pictures of Stephen McConomy (Peter Byrne/PA)

Karen Bradley was given a number of pictures of Stephen McConomy (Peter Byrne/PA)

The sister of a man shot dead by the Army has urged the Northern Ireland Secretary to resign.

Frances Meehan, whose brother Michael Donnelly was hit with a plastic bullet in 1981, said Karen Bradley’s position was “untenable”.

On Wednesday, Mrs Bradley said killings carried out by the police and military during the Troubles were not crimes, rather the actions of people “fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”.

The comments sparked fury among some victims and political parties. A delegation of relatives travelled to the Government’s offices in Belfast on Friday to discuss the furore.

Ms Meehan said: “I wanted to meet her because I wanted to look her in the eye to tell her how I felt about her comments in the House of Commons.

“I also wanted to say to her that on this day, International Women’s Day, that she is an insult to women.

“We know she has apologised but her position is completely and utterly untenable and she needs to resign.”

The families gave Mrs Bradley a photograph of an 11-year-old boy in his coffin after he was shot dead by the British Army.

Stephen McConomy was killed by a plastic bullet close to his home in Londonderry in 1982.

Photographs of the schoolboy also included one of him in his school uniform two weeks before he was killed and another of him on a life-support machine.

Representatives from campaign group Relatives for Justice said Mrs Bradley was left “speechless”.

Ms Bradley said it was humbling to listen to the personal and deeply moving stories of victims.

“I heard about the hurt and suffering endured over many years – about the experiences of those whose family members died at the hands of the security forces.

“This cannot have been felt more deeply than by those who lost children during the Troubles.

“The families I met today referred to unarmed civilians and 82 children who lost their lives in incidents involving the security forces.

“Families from throughout Northern Ireland and from all parts of the community, who suffered as a result of the Troubles, rightly want to see justice properly delivered.

“Where there is any evidence of wrongdoing this should be pursued without fear or favour whoever the perpetrators might be.”

Relatives of those killed in shootings involving the Army in Ballymurphy in west Belfast in 1971 refused to meet Mrs Bradley.

John Teggart, whose father Danny was shot 14 times at Ballymurphy, said: “We will not meet her, and have one request for Mrs Bradley and that is for her to resign immediately.”

Mairead Kelly’s brother Patrick was one of eight IRA men killed at Loughgall on May 8 1987.

Civilian Anthony Hughes was also killed in the incident.

Ms Kelly, director of the Loughgall Truth and Justice Campaign, said: “We don’t accept her apology, she is unfit for office.

“We requested more than once to meet with her in light of the Hughes judgment and she refused. I don’t believe she is genuinely sorry, it was not an unintentional slip of the tongue remark.

“She is demonstrating how she truly feels about their armed forces and I think the timing of it is crucial, also the nodding heads of some of the backbenches should also put them in the spotlight because they are clearly in agreement with her.”

Mrs Bradley made it clear on Thursday that she would not be leaving her role, vowing instead to work to deliver for people she had offended.

“I want to get on and get this job done,” she said.

Downing Street has said Prime Minister Theresa May retains full confidence in her.

The minister’s comments carried added significance as they were made a week before long-awaited decisions from Northern Ireland prosecutors on whether 17 soldiers involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Londonderry in 1972 will face prosecution.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told BBC Radio 4 podcast Political Thinking With Nick Robinson that “they needed to give protections to service personnel…to ensure we don’t have spurious prosecutions”.

He said: “No one in the Armed Forces wants to be above the law, but what we did need to do is to ensure that they do have the protection so that they don’t feel under threat.

“It’s not just about Northern Ireland, but about Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts before that and in the future.”

In relation to Bloody Sunday prosecutions, he added: “Sadly I don’t think that will come in time.

“I think we have to ask a real question as to Northern Ireland has moved on. There’s been so much progress – we’ve got to look to the future, not at the past.”

Ms Bradley returned to the Commons on Wednesday in a bid to clarify the comments and, on Thursday, issued a statement of apology, saying she was “profoundly sorry”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mrs Bradley’s apology was “genuine and heartfelt”.

In Dublin he said: “She has accepted that her comments were insensitive and wrong.

“What’s important now is that it’s followed up on, from words must follow actions. That involves full funding for legacy inquests and it involves setting up the historical inquiries team which has been committed to by the UK Government.

“Where there was wrongdoing by members of the security forces, whether it was north or south of the border, they need to be be properly investigated and prosecuted if there is a case.”

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said the issue went to the heart of British policy in Ireland.

“They want to cover up what happened in the past, they want to cover up the role of state forces in the past.

“This is actually the real British Government state policy.

“What Karen Bradley did is she gave the game away.”

She added: “Their priority is to protect their own.”

PA