There has been a furious response to a statement by British Prime Minister Theresa May to her own parliament which deliberately misrepresented official figures on policing and claimed “the only people being investigated” are members of the Crown Forces.
Mrs May told MPs that there was an “unfair situation at the moment”. She said: “The situation we have at the moment is that the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland - that is patently unfair,” she said.
“Terrorists are not being investigated, terrorists should be investigated and that is what the government wants to see.”
The claim has been widely debunked. Statistics show that less than one in three of ongoing legacy cases relate to the British state forces. No prosecution of a British soldier has taken place since the Good Friday Agreement. Throughout the conflict, only four British soldiers have ever been convicted of shootings while on duty, and none have served more than six years.
In contrast, a number of high profile republicans have faced investigation or prosecution in recent years, including former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who was released after four days interrogation three years ago. Octogenarian Ivor Bell is currently facing trial in connection with armed actions dating from 1972. In 2011, a former member of the Sinn Fein leadership, Gerry McGeough, was convicted and jailed on IRA charges.
Arrests over Provisional IRA actions are routine: a 60-year-old man this week was arrested in connection with an attack in County Tyrone 25 years ago.
May was accused of misleading parliament by British politicians. Her outburst is thought to have been provoked by a row in the Tory cabinet over plans to introduce a new ‘Historical Investigations Unit’ (HIU), as agreed in the 2014’s Stormont House Agreement.
Some MPs have demanded an amnesty for British soldiers accused of war crimes, both in Ireland and in the Middle East. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson called for a “statute of limitations” to include conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan in order to prevent Irish republicans seeking an amnesty of their own.
But there was a welcome for a draft Bill to establish mechanisms agreed in the Stormont House Agreement, which emerged without an amnesty or limitations clause.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the British government had delayed the process too long.
“The Stormont House Agreement was four years ago and the institutions agreed then are still not in operation,” she said.
“Victims should not have had to wait so long to get to this stage. They should not have had to see so many false promises from the British Government come and go during that period.
“This is much too important an issue for it to be jeopardised by in-fighting within the Tory cabinet as we have seen over recent days.
“The Stormont House legacy bodies are key to finding a way forward on the past so its important that we now move on with the consultation and the British Government end their stalling, delaying and deliberate misinformation with regard to this issue.
“Similarly, they must drop their ongoing refusal to release the legacy inquest funding requested by the Lord Chief Justice. It is now over six weeks since the High Court ruled that this money was unlawfully blocked by the former First Minister Arlene Foster.
“The British Secretary of State should immediately release the funding and enable the Lord Chief Justice to proceed with his plan to clear the backlog of legacy inquests.”