Relatives of Derry people killed by security forces have rejected NI Secretary of State Karen Bradley‘s apology for claims she made that such killings were “not crimes.”
Karen Bradley yesterday said she was sorry for the offence caused by comments she made on Wednesday, amid growing calls for her resignation.
However, several relatives of innocent victims said it was ‘too little, too late’.
Billy McGreanery, whose uncle William (Billy) McGreanery was shot dead by a soldier as he was walking near an army bservation post near the Bogside on September 15, 1971, said Bradley ‘had to go.’
Speaking in answer to a question from DUP MP, Emma Little Pengelly, regarding prosecutions for “acts of terrorism,” Karen Bradley had said in Parliament on Wednesday: “90% of the killings during the Troubles were at the hands of terrorists. Every single one of those was a crime. The remaining 10% that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes; they were people acting under orders and instructions, fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way.”
Later on Wednesday the Secretary of State moved to clarify that her earlier comments “may have been open to misinterpretation,” and then yesterday issued a statement saying: “I want to apologise. I am profoundly sorry for the offence and hurt that my words have caused.”
She added: “Where there is any evidence of wrong doing this should be pursued without fear or favour whoever the perpetrators might be.”
Mr. McGreanery said he was “livid” when he heard the earlier remarks. “That was an absolute insult to every family affected by the Troubles that has incurred loss. The clarification wasn’t much better.
“My reading of this is this was their hidden agenda for the last 50 years. The British Government isn’t that stupid. I believe this was the mask slipping, and slipping badly.”
Mr. McGreanery said he thought the remarks were intentional to influence the PPS decision expected on Thursday with regards to whether any soldiers would face prosecution for the Bloody Sunday killings.
Responding to the apology he added: “When you open your mouth to say something, that is in your heart and in your head, you have to engage your brain to make your mouth work and wooden apologies don’t count for anything.
“I won’t be accepting the apology of someone who is supposed to be a Secretary of State representing Northern Ireland because that’s a very biased slant on it. Get rid of her and get somebody who knows something about this place, maybe somebody that has read a wee book of history.”
Mr. McGreanery added: “There are inquiries and cases still ongoing and this is basically trying to pull the carpet out from under them. All these should have been dealt with at the time - it is illegal what they did at the time and it is disgraceful they are dragging these cases over decades and decades and decades, and I believe it’s a waiting game - they are waiting for the soldiers to die.”
The soldier who shot William McGreanery initially claimed the 41-years-old Derry man had aimed a rifle at the sanger, something dismissed by all eye-witnesses at the time and something the soldier himself later said he must have been mistaken on. Despite a senior RUC officer recommending a murder charge be brought over the McGreanery’s killing at the time, no charge was ever brought after advice was sought from the then Attorney General.
In 2010, the Historical Enquiries Team found Mr McGreanery (41) “was not carrying a firearm and he posed no threat” and his innocence was acknowledged by the MoD in 2011 and the British Government in 2013 when they issued apologies to the family over the killing.
However no-one has ever been charged and the case is currently with the Legacy Investigation Branch. “We are still pursuing justice. While there is a breathe in my body I will do that,” Mr McGreanery maintained.
Meanwhile, there have been growing calls elsewhere for Karen Bradley to step down, among them SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who described her comments as “absolutely appalling.”
He said: “Once again Karen Bradley has exhibited her stunning ignorance about the past. Such comments, albeit always wrong, are particularly insensitive given the Bloody Sunday families await news on whether former British soldiers will be prosecuted for murdering 14 innocent civilians on the streets of Derry.”
Sinn Féin MLA Michelle O’Neill said the comments were “outrageous and offensive” and urged her to resign. “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,” she said.
Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan also said yesterday on ‘BBC World At One’ that Karen Bradley should be removed from office after showing “a total lack of comprehension of Northern Ireland.”
“We cannot continue to have a Secretary of State who is in a state of such ignorance,” Mrs. O’Loan said.