British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley is facing further criticism after she praised the “courage and distinction” of British soldiers following the Bloody Sunday decision to prosecute one of them for murder.
Fourteen civil rights demonstrators died when British paratroopers opened fire on their protest in January, 1972. Bradley paid tribute to members of the Crown Forces just hours after the prosecution decision against one of the paratroopers was made known.
She said: “We are indebted to those who served with courage and distinction to bring peace in Northern Ireland, and I have the deepest sympathy for the suffering of the families of those who were killed on Bloody Sunday and all those who lost loved ones during the Troubles.”
Bradley faced calls to resign last week after she told the House of Commons that killings carried out by British soldiers and police are “not crimes”, but rather actions of those “fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”.
In November, she said she wanted to find a way to get British soldiers facing prosecution for murder “off the hook”. She said she was working to find a way “that we can all be happy that our service veterans and former police officers do not face harassment in the courts, do not face disproportionate focus from the legal services.”
She has also declared that soldiers convicted of murder should be eligible for early release under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Bloody Sunday Trust chairman Tony Doherty called on Bradley to resign.
Mr Doherty, whose father Patrick was one of those killed in the Bloody Sunday massacre, said: “Her crassness is fathomless. The British army did not bring peace. To the people of Derry, the Parachute Regiment brought murder, mayhem and injustice.”
Her comments also mean she is not an appropriate person to appoint a successor to Police Ombudsman Michael Maguire, according to one of his predecessors.
Nuala O’Loan, who in 1999 became the north’s first police ombudsman, said Karen Bradley’s involvement in appointing a replacement for Mr Maguire would undermine trust in the police watchdog.
“I don’t think she is capable of being perceived as impartial and I think it’s critical for trust in the police ombudsman’s office that the person appointed can be seen to have been appointed impartially,” she said.
“It is a function of the secretary of state, that has to be exercised but she is not the person who can exercise it.”
Mrs O’Loan said that although Bradley had apologised for her more controversial statements, she it was “very clear that that is the way she thought”.
“My view would be that if she remains in post and makes the appointment there may well be questions about the impartiality of the candidate she appointed because she has said what she has said,” she said.
“It’s not to reflect on anybody who might be appointed but simply trust in the police ombudsman’s office is critical to the operation of it and I think what she has said has indicated that she is not impartial.”