Secretary of State, Julian Smith, has refused to say whether or not he agreed with Boris Johnson that British soldiers should not be “unfairly prosecuted” for their roles in atrocities in Ireland.
Mr. Smith was noncommittal when pressed on the matter during a visit to Derry on Friday.
“I think we’ve said that we will look at that issue. We are in the process, as you know, of looking at that issue.
“There are some specific issues in NI and I’ll be looking at that issue in the coming days and weeks,” said the former British Government chief whip who was shifted to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) last Wednesday.
During his visit members of the Bloody Sunday families and Irish language, LGBT, and women’s rights campaigners staged a picket on the steps of the Guildhall over the British Government’s failure to deliver for victims, Irish language speakers, and to act on women’s and LGBT rights issues.
And there was scepticism over whether the new Secretary of State, whose Skipton and Ripon constituency in the Yorkshire Dales lies within ten miles of Catterick, the largest British Army garrison in the world, had the will to deal with the legacy of the past.
Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said: “For over two years now, this British Government has prioritised its self-serving pact with the DUP over the rights of citizens. Successive British Secretaries of State have refused to implement previous agreements on an Irish Language Act and dealing with the legacy of the past.”
Asked about the prosecution of soldiers for their involvement in atrocities in Ireland Mr. Smith could only say: “As I said we’ve been looking at that issue for a while. As you know, there’s been a focus on that quite intense debate at Westminster.”
While in Derry Mr. Smith visited a number of iconic landmarks in the city.
These included the Derry Walls, Walker’s Plinth, the Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABOD)’s Memorial Hall and the Siege Museum. He was presented with an Apprentice Boys tie during his visit.
He denied that his decision not to visit any nationalist landmarks represented a snub to that community.
“I’ve spent a large amount of time this morning with Sinn Féin. I’ll be meeting with Sinn Féin for several hours on Monday,” declared the Secretary of State.
The 47-year-old Stirling-native claimed it was an honour to serve the North.
“I’ve had the warmest of welcomes and I’m so grateful for the privilege of being able to do this job but also for the welcome that people have given me in the various places I’ve been today,” he said.