A decision to appoint a former SAS military figure as a direct rule British minister is being seen as an indication of a mounting crisis in the peace process in the north of Ireland.
Andrew Robathan, appointed on Tuesday, operated in the British army’s murderous ‘elite’ unit while it was engaged in a notorious ‘shoot to kill’ policy of planned assassinations in Ireland.
The SAS killed a total of 14 republicans during the 1980s, including eight IRA Volunteers in a single ambush at Loughgall, County Armagh in 1987.
Robathan was a member of the British Army for 15 years before later becoming a Tory MP. An often controversial figure, he once complained about the cost of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, claiming the probe would “stir up old enmities and reopen old sores”.
His duties in Belfast are expected to include a ‘security’ role.
A Sinn Fein Assembly member described the appointment as “completely insensitive”.
West Tyrone representative Barry McElduff said: “A number of weeks ago the British secretary of state Teresa Villiers was lecturing on the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues relating to victims.
“How do those comments measure against this appointment of a former SAS member given the history of that British state gang’s role in Ireland?”
The appointment was announced as British Prime Minister David Cameron flew into Belfast in a bid to “encourage new investment” in the British-occupied north of Ireland.
He said that investors believed the Six Counties was a “safe and secure” place to do business.
“Some people say it’s a bit undignified for a prime minister to make a sales pitch, I say nonsense,” he said.
Speaking at Stormont Castle later, Mr Cameron joined condemned political condemnation of this week’s killings of two criminals, one of which was claimed by the ‘new IRA’.
He claimed that the DUP’s First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had taken ‘risks for peace’ and that they would continue to take risks to ensure there was progress.
“They come from very different political parties, different traditions but they work together for the people of Northern Ireland,” Mr Cameron added.
Mr McGuinness also told delegates that the north of Ireland was a “very safe place to invest and to live, with very low crime levels”.