Karen Bradley apologises after saying security force killings were 'not crimes'
Secretary of State Karen Bradley has apologised for the "offence and hurt" caused after she suggested deaths caused by soldiers and police during the Troubles were not crimes.
She said in a statement: "Yesterday I made comments regarding the actions of soldiers during the Troubles. I want to apologise. I am profoundly sorry for the offence and hurt that my words have caused. The language was wrong and even though this was not my intention, it was deeply insensitive to many of those who lost loved ones.
"I know from those families that I have met personally just how raw their pain is and I completely understand why they want to see justice properly delivered. I share that aim and that is why I launched the public consultation on addressing the legacy of the Troubles.
"My position and the position of this government is clear. We believe fundamentally in the rule of law. Where there is any evidence of wrongdoing this should be pursued without fear or favour whoever the perpetrators might be. That is a principle that underpins our approach to dealing with legacy issues and it is one from which we will not depart."
Ms Bradley has faced mounting calls to resign after telling MPs yesterday that soldiers and police who shot civilians were "fulfilling their duty".
Ms Bradley said: "Over 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.
"They were people acting under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way."
Ms Bradley was forced to clarify the remarks in the House of Commons.
The secretary of state was initially responding to a question from DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly about mechanisms to investigate killings carried out by paramilitaries during the Troubles.
Northern Ireland's former police ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan urged the Prime Minister to seek Ms Bradley's resignation.
Ahead of the apology today, Baroness Nuala O'Loan said: "Those comments show a complete disregard for the operation of the rule of law.
"Moreover, they also demonstrate a total lack of understanding about Northern Ireland and utter contempt for those who suffered the loss of loved ones."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said today that Karen Bradley's comments were insensitive and wrong.
"Legacy issues in Britain and Ireland are very difficult," he said.
"I've met families who have lost loved ones during the Troubles and they're still grieving and seeking justice.
"In that context I think the secretary of state's comments were insensitive and they were wrong."
"Bear in mind we're talking about the killing of civilians, peaceful protesters in Derry on Bloody Sunday, we're talking about Ballymurphy and Kingsmills, and Dublin and Monaghan," Mr Varadkar said.
"We need a British government that is at least open to the possibility that these killings of civilians were crimes.
"Indeed, there have been convictions for such killings."
Asked if Ms Bradley should resign, Mr Varadkar said: "Not gonna go there.
"It's not for me to determine the composition of any other government, that's something for the prime minister and Karen herself to decide."
PSNI chief constable George Hamilton, addressing a meeting of the Policing Board in Belfast said: "It is up to individuals to give account for their own words."
He added: "She has to explain and own her words in the same way as all political leaders do."
He confirmed that if a police officer or soldier shot someone they should be investigated in compliance with the law.
"Where people have lost their lives we should all be equal under the law.
"There should be a thorough and effective investigation."
He said the security forces should also be accountable for their actions.
Ms Bradley's statement yesterday, which came days before an expected announcement on the prosecution of British soldiers over the Bloody Sunday killings, was branded "outrageous and offensive" by Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill.
She said she spoke to Ms Bradley and "told her in the strongest possible terms that her comments today are beyond unacceptable. Told her it is a resignation matter."
These comments are an insult to families who have lost loved ones at the hands of the British army, state agencies and their proxies in the loyalist death squads which were directed by the British state.— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) 6 March 2019
These offensive and hurtful comments should be withdrawn immediately. https://t.co/Ow1uNZoykg
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also called for Mrs Bradley's to resign, while his Alliance counterpart Naomi Long said if she "does not withdraw her comments and apologise to the families, her position will be untenable".
Time for Karen Bradley to resign. pic.twitter.com/sDgbH2hltg— Colum Eastwood (@columeastwood) 6 March 2019
Ms Bradley caused controversy last year when she said investigations into killings during the Troubles showed a "disproportionate emphasis on the actions of the military and law-enforcement bodies."
Her comments echoed those of British prime minister Theresa May who said 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."
The claims were rejected by PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton who said figures which show former security force members are linked to only 30 per cent of cases within the PSNI's legacy investigations branch "speak for themselves".
Ms Bradley has also been criticised for previously admitting she initially did not understand that the north’s nationalists did not vote for unionist parties during elections.
Alliance leader Naomi Long called on the secretary of state to apologise for yesterday's comments.
She said: “Karen Bradley needs to realise the statement she made is not just appalling and deeply hurtful to families of those killed by the security services, many of whom are still waiting for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones, but they have also undermined due process and the rule of law."