The Northern Ireland Secretary’s claims that investigations into Troubles killings are “disproportionately” focusing on State forces have been branded false and deeply troubling.
Alex Attwood MLA, SDLP justice spokesman, said James Brokenshire’s remarks in a Sunday newspaper beggar belief.
“This week the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Lord Chief Justice respectively asserted their independence and defended due process and the rule of law in the face of false claims to the contrary,” he said.
“This weekend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should publicly be out fully on the same message.
“The fact that he chooses otherwise, to repeat false claims, is deeply troubling.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Brokenshire said inquiries were “not working” and he backed the “vast majority” of soldiers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) as having served with “distinction”.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s l egacy investigation branch is looking into more than 3,200 killings in the province between 1969 and 2004.
Numerous former soldiers are among those facing prosecution for killings.
“I am clear the current system is not working and we are in danger of seeing the past rewritten,” Mr Brokenshire wrote.
“It is also clear the current focus is disproportionately on those who worked for the state - former members of the Armed Forces and the RUC, the vast majority of whom served in Northern Ireland with great courage, professionalism and distinction.
“I believe that with political will an agreement is within reach to deal with this important and sensitive issue.”
Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP MP for Lagan Valley, backed the comments, saying there has been “a one-sided legal persecution of police and soldiers despite 90% of deaths in Northern Ireland having been carried out by terrorists from all sides”.
“The Secretary of State is correct when he says the current system is not working and he must now act decisively to address this,” he added.
Last week, Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said any suggestion he had chosen to give priority in Troubles inquests involving the State was “simply not correct”.
The region’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC said allegations that Troubles prosecution cases involving former soldiers were unfairly prioritised by his office insulted him as well as all the lawyers who worked for the prosecution service.
Criticism of Mr McGrory has been aired at Westminster and in some national newspapers amid allegations a “witch hunt” being pursued against ex-military personnel.
Mr McGrory pointed out there had been only three prosecutorial decisions involving former soldiers in recent times - two that resulted in prosecutions and one in no prosecution.