Leading article

Karen Bradley is sadly out of her depth

For a secretary of state for Northern Ireland to stand up in the House of Commons and assert that killings carried out by police or military during the conflict were not crimes is quite astounding.

Karen Bradley sparked outrage from politicians, victims groups and justice campaigners after she told MPs: ''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 ten 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.''

From a legal perspective alone this is an indefensible statement, as well as inaccurate.

It completely ignores the fact that a number of soldiers have been convicted of murder in the north while there are well documented and high profile cases of collusion involving the security forces which resulted in numerous deaths and which are the subject of ongoing scrutiny.

It potentially undermines current investigations and possible prosecutions, such as in relation to Bloody Sunday which, it has been reported, could result in charges being brought as early as next week.

In wider terms it also strongly suggests is she has not been paying attention to the legacy cases that are currently going through an inquest process, including the Ballymurphy massacre which has been hearing especially harrowing testimony from victims and eyewitnesses.

Following an outcry, which included calls for her resignation, Mrs Bradley returned to the Commons to clarify her remarks insisting she was not referring to any specific cases and stressing the independence of the legal authorities from government.

We don't know if she realised she had made a mistake or if it had to be pointed out to her, but it does not reflect well on her judgment that she stood at the despatch box and made such a sweeping statement on a sensitive and controversial matter.

If she did not realise when she was saying it that she would be creating a furore, offending victims and overstepping the legal boundaries, then we have to wonder if she has the knowledge, skills and political intelligence required for this job.

Mrs Bradley was roundly pilloried when she admitted to the The House magazine when appointed that she did not understand that nationalists did not vote for unionist parties and vice versa.

We might have hoped that in the period since then she would have gained a greater awareness of not only the basics but also managed to pick up on the subtler aspects of our situation.

On the evidence of yesterday's lamentable performance, it seems she still does not fully grasp what is going on here at such a crucial stage and is sadly out of her depth.

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