Soldier-turned-politician Doug Beattie has warmly hailed remarks by the head of the UK’s armed forces, in which he pledged to “stamp” upon what he dubbed “vexatious claims” against Troubles-era personnel.
Mr Beattie said that General Sir Nick Carter’s comments were a welcome reminder of the bravery of troops deployed to the Province during the decades of bloodshed.
By contrast, Sinn Fein reacted angrily, issuing a statement from its legacy spokeswoman Linda Dillon calling the comments “extremely insulting”, and demanding he provide evidence of such “vexatious claims”. The Alliance Party also condemned his comments.
Speaking at a media briefing at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire on Thursday, Sir Nick had said: “It is right and proper that if our soldiers have done something wrong then they should clearly be investigated. But only if they have done something wrong...
“If you end up with a clutch of vexatious claims then that undermines morale and has the risk of undermining our combat ethos and our fighting spirit. I would absolutely stamp on any of that sort of activity.”
He also praised the “extraordinarily amazing” work of the Army during the Troubles, and said that “we wouldn’t be in a position which we now are in if the British Army hadn’t done a remarkable job”.
Mr Beattie, an ex-captain with the Royal Irish Regiment and now Upper Bann MLA, said: “The comments from the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, will be welcomed by all those who want to see balance and fairness in dealing with the past.
“He is absolutely correct. The Army did indeed do a remarkable job here in defeating a brutal terrorist campaign with great restraint and in the face of massive provocation.”
He added that “context” in examining the past is key; he cited a death toll of 476 people in 1972, the bloodiest year of the Troubles, adding that it was against this backdrop that the police and Army had to “struggle daily”.
He also made reference to the ongoing consultation on blueprints – based on proposals first set out in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement – for how to solve the huge backlog of Troubles deaths.
Unionists have long voiced concerns about troops being disproportionately targeted by such investigations, and Mr Beattie said any plans must be “balanced” and “fair” – for the sake of “all those who bravely stood up to fight terrorism”.
Sinn Fein MLA Ms Dillon meanwhile said: “During the conflict, state forces operated with impunity and we will resist any attempt to legalise this policy, which constituted an integral aspect of the British Government’s sustained abuse of the human rights of Irish citizens both during and after the conflict.”
She also said the general should be meet with families “in order to understand the hurt” his comments cause.
Meanwhile, Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said that whilst “the vast majority of soldiers acted honourably and bravely in protecting the community”, it is not for the general “to make judgements or draw a distinction on what are ‘genuine’ versus ‘vexatious’ claims”, he said.
Sir Nick’s remarks “appear dangerous, irresponsible comments at odds with the rule of law”, he said.