Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Karen Bradley puts foot in it over legacy of past

Secretary of State Karen Bradley
Secretary of State Karen Bradley

Editor's Viewpoint

Secretary of State Karen Bradley must surely realise that her position requires her to think carefully before she makes any comment. That is especially true when she chooses to talk about the controversial and sensitive subject of dealing with the legacy of the past.

She certainly was emphatic in her initial comments yesterday about deaths caused by the security forces. She said that more than 90% of killings during the Troubles were caused by republican and loyalist terrorists and every one of those was a crime. That is a self-evident statement.

However, she went on the say that the less than 10% of deaths caused by police and soldiers were not crimes.

Understandably that caused immediate controversy, especially as there has been ongoing debate over the possible charging of soldiers with murder over deaths on Bloody Sunday.

Later the Secretary of State attempted to clarify her position by saying that where there was evidence of wrongdoing, it should always be investigated. But by that stage the harm had been caused in nationalist circles and among the bereaved relatives of Bloody Sunday.

She was right to attempt to distinguish the roles of terrorists and the forces of law and order. Terrorism is wrong and a crime in all cases. The police and Army have lawful roles to perform and when they do so according to the rules they operate under, their actions are legal. However, whenever they step outside the law they should be liable to the same scrutiny and legal sanction as anyone else. Simply wearing a uniform does not give either police or Army carte blanche.

While there have been calls for the Secretary of State to resign, those are expected knee-jerk reactions and serve little value. Better that she learn to avoid such unfortunate comments in future and plot a way to deal with the toxic legacy of past.

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Her comments came after the news that Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Herron is considering prosecuting four soldiers for their part in the killings on Bloody Sunday - deaths of innocent people, as the Saville Inquiry found. Some people will interpret her comments as undue interference by the Government on the independent Public Prosecution Service.

While there should be no question of a statute of limitations on murder, as some Army and police supporters suggest, there can be a useful debate on what should happen to elderly men if convicted.

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