Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: If Karen Bradley is truly sorry for victims blunder, she must revive Stormont House Agreement now

The Secretary of State should have resigned over her unforgivable clanger but she won't, says Alban Maginness

Criticised: Karen Bradley
Criticised: Karen Bradley

In January 1992, Peter Brooke, the-then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, sang Oh My Darling Clementine on the Late Late Show on RTE at the urging of Gay Byrne. That day, seven Protestant workmen had been killed in an IRA bomb.

It was an unintended, but thoughtless, act of jollity that was inappropriate given the ghastly circumstances of the day. His actions were condemned by a chorus of unionist politicians, who called for his resignation.

Being a man of sensitivity and with an old-fashioned sense of decency, he offered his resignation to the Prime Minister, John Major, who refused to accept it. However, after the general election two months later, he did drop him from his new Cabinet, in part because of his gaffe.

Fast-forward to Karen Bradley, the current Secretary of State, who claimed, in answer to a question in the Commons from the DUP's Emma Little-Pengelly, that security force killings during the Troubles were "not crimes". Despite a blistering barrage of criticism, she gave an equivocal apology and still clung fiercely to her post.

Compare her reaction to that of Peter Brooke, who realised his own unintentional, but hurtful, indiscretion and acted honourably by apologising and offering his resignation to John Major. His indiscretion was insignificant in comparison to Karen Bradley's appalling comments.

Bradley has outraged a wide slice of opinion among victims of state violence, but also practically the whole nationalist community.

Victims feel hurt, diminished and deeply dismayed by her gross insensitivity. They believe - and there is much evidence to support their conclusion - that she is politically biased against the nationalist community.

Her apology appears to them to be politically contrived, purely to protect her own position as a Cabinet minister.

Unusually, her Commons' answer has been criticised well beyond just nationalist opinion and includes politicians such as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP and unionist political commentator Nelson McCausland.

There is a burning sense of injustice lingering among those whose relatives were killed, or seriously injured, by the police or Army that they may never discover the truth regarding their deaths, let alone justice in a court of law.

They believe that the state has run roughshod over their dead relatives and will protect their soldiers above all else.

A case in point was the murder of 19-year-old Peter McBride by two soldiers operating in the New Lodge Road area of Belfast in 1992.

Was his murder, in Bradley's ill-chosen words, "dignified and appropriate"? Was it appropriate that the soldiers convicted of his murder served only three years in jail and that, on release, were recruited back into the Scots Guards?

How proud is the British Army to have two convicted murderers openly welcomed back into its ranks?

What sort of message does this send out to rest of the world and to the victims of Army violence?

Where is Britain's much-vaunted sense of fair play? Victims' families here may be forgiven for thinking that fair play applies to all, except the Irish.

Although Bradley should have resigned, she will not, having the trust of a Prime Minister who herself is in office by default.

She will cling onto the wreckage of her office, having lost any serious credibility as an impartial Secretary of State.

She is, of course, just the latest in a series of superbly forgettable Secretaries of State, including Theresa Villiers and James Brokenshire, who made little contribution to political progress here. Their bias in favour of unionism and the DUP was evident in their dealings. Nor was there any attempt made by any of them to advance the issues surrounding legacy, upon which this whole sorry episode turns.

If Bradley is "profoundly sorry" for the "offence and hurt" caused, then she should take immediate steps to implement the Stormont House Agreement of December 2014.

In that agreement - which the local parties signed up to - there were a number of bespoke institutions outlined that would comprehensively address the legacy issue.

To date, all that has been achieved is a meandering process of consultations designed to delay, rather than progress, dealing with legacy.

This is an intolerable situation, given the corrosive effect that unresolved legacy issues continue to have on the health and well-being of our politics.

This failure is a failure specific to the British Government, as it is their primary responsibility to legislate at Westminster for the major items on this crucial list.

Top of the list is the Historical Investigations Unit, which would examine in detail all the outstanding 1,700 murders that have not yet been investigated.

While it is impossible for Karen Bradley to fully repair the damage she has caused, she should at least attempt to repair it by quickly implementing the Stormont House Agreement.

Alas, a forlorn hope.

Belfast Telegraph

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