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AS the role of secretary of state for Northern Ireland (SOSNI) is no longer fit for purpose, and as it no longer seems to matter which MP actually fills the role, isn’t it time for the British Parliament to be completely honest with the relatives of those killed by crown forces during the Troubles and come clean about having no intentions of helping them to obtain truth and justice?
Look at the facts. Without exception, at Prime Minister’s Questions, when a question is asked or demands made that the investigations of former soldiers be halted, the House remains silent in opposition to that request.
Not one MP will challenge that view or call into question the integrity of former soldiers or the right to know the truth.
For example, last year, in response to a question on the same subject, Theresa May blatantly lied by stating that only those who served in the armed forces or police are being investigated for events relating to the Troubles, when in fact at the time the question was asked, 570 cases relating to terrorism were under investigation.
Is it not the role of the shadow SOSNI, to correct and scrutinise the statement spouted as facts in such cases?
Unfortunately the families are used to it. They have had to kick and fight every inch of the way to make their voices heard and following PMQs on Wednesday March 6 they had to do so again.
In response to a question from the DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly, relating to legacy issues, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley said: “90 per cent of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists, every single one of those was a crime. The fewer than 10 per cent that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes.”
Not content with making a statement that appears to sweep away the role of the judiciary while undermining the hard work by families, individuals and organisations like the Pat Finucane Centre and Paper Trail which have done brilliant archive research, uncovering facts on behalf of the families of the victims, Bradley then went on to say: “[The police and military] were people acting under orders and instruction and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way.”
The timing of Bradley’s statement couldn’t have been worse, with the decision pending relating to the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday which claimed a total of 14 lives. So what is Bradley’s idea of a “dignified and appropriate” way to be killed?
How about the shooting of 15-year-old Manus Deery in May 1972?
Manus had just received his first pay packet that day. In the evening, he was standing with his friends eating from a bag of chips behind the Bogside Inn in Derry, when shots rang out from British soldiers located on the Derry walls. One of the bullets struck the youngster at the side of his head.
Similar to other historic cases, the Royal Military Police took the soldiers’ statements and consequently there was no RUC investigation into the claim made by the soldiers that a gunman was in the area.
To date, no soldier has ever been prosecuted for the killing. Does Bradley believe this young man’s death was dignified and appropriate?
Or maybe the killing of 16-year-old Michael McCartan in South Belfast met Bradley’s criteria?
Again, like many unarmed civilian killings, the death was in disputed circumstances. Michael, who had been due to start work as an apprentice plasterer, was shot by an RUC officer after painting the word “provo” on a gable end of a house.
The RUC officer stated he had mistakenly took the paintbrush the youth was holding for a gun. Although initially charged with murder, the RUC officer was later acquitted.
These are just two examples of many that could be used.
However, my disgust is not just about what Bradley said, but the lack of action by those present in chamber when Bradley uttered those stomach-churning words.
For although Bradley did eventually apologise for the “offence and hurt” that her words may have caused — no doubt after being warned of the implications of what she had said could have on her job and her career — her apology was not due to pressure from other MPs.
There was no political outcry. The best we had was a comments such as: “Bradley used a poor choice of words.”
Shouldn’t it be mandatory for an MP to believe that any killing of an unarmed, innocent civilian at the hands of crown forces must be scrutinised?
Or is this a “right” not afforded to the people in the north of Ireland?
Instead of objecting to Bradley’s statement, those present stayed silent, too afraid no doubt to stand up for the families of the victims.
Maybe it was for fear of being singled out as anti-armed forces. If so, they completely missed the point that the majority of armed forces who served in the north of Ireland during the recent Troubles did so to the best of their ability, within the rules stipulated and, in most cases, oblivious to the actions of those that acted outside the law.
Sadly, the message from the British Parliament to the families seeking truth and justice was crystal clear. You are not important. You don’t matter.
In a final attempt to cling to her job, Bradley said she fundamentally believed in the rule of law then went on to say: “Where there is evidence of wrongdoing this should be pursed without fear or favour, whoever the perpetrators might be.”
If this is a sincere statement, I look forward to her resignation — but not before authorising the imminent release of all records relating to the Troubles that may well prove alleged state collusion and cover-up, while not forgetting vital documentation that may well assist the families to achieve truth and justice.
Richard Rudkin is a former soldier who served in the north of Ireland.
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