Leading Tory MP Boris Johnson has suggested the murder investigation into Bloody Sunday is being run for “political” reasons to appease Sinn Fein.
In response, the party branded his remarks “disgraceful”.
Mr Johnson, in an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph, indicated the investigation into the 1972 mass shooting which cost 14 lives should be “disposed of as quietly and as speedily as possible”.
He was writing largely in reaction to a story the newspaper had carried at the weekend, claiming “well-placed sources have suggested” four former soldiers could be told on or shortly after March 14 that they face murder charges.
The PPS said the Daily Telegraph’s claims at the weekend had been “wholly speculative” and risked causing “significant and undue distress”.
And in his opinion piece yesterday, Mr Johnson acknowledged “we cannot yet know for certain whether charges will indeed be brought”.
However, Mr Johnson (who was foreign secretary from summer 2016 to summer 2018 before quitting in protest at Theresa May’s handling of Brexit) went on to add that if charges are indeed forthcoming, they will likely be met with “a storm of utter fury from the public”.
He said whilst “the mere lapse of time should be no protection for anyone guilty of a serious offence”, the events of the day have been “chewed and chewed again” through public inquiries.
Nonetheless “much of the evidence has been destroyed”, “there is so much doubt about who did what”, and “chances of a conviction are surely remote”.
He added: “Why have we set up this new ‘Historical Investigations Unit’ that has pushed to reopen the Bloody Sunday inquiry? The objective is not to get to the truth of this episode, or any other.
“It is just meant to be a concession to Sinn Fein, a gesture to nationalist feeling, part of the complex politics of restarting provincial government at Stormont.
“It will cost millions. It will achieve nothing except the misery of a few old men.
“It will serve as a terrible warning to anyone thinking of joining the services: that politics sometimes trumps justice – and when politics trumps justice, the members of the armed services will know that they are on their own.”
Sinn Fein Foyle MP Elisha McCallion issued a statement dubbing the comments “disgraceful and hurtful to the relatives of those killed”.
“What happened on Bloody Sunday was not a ‘misjudgment’ as Boris Johnson has claimed,” she said. “It was murder and that’s why there is an ongoing murder inquiry.”
She added that “the British government need to step up and implement the legacy mechanisms already agreed” – a reference to the raft of measures drawn up in the Stormont House Agreement.
These include creating an official “factual historical timeline and statistical analysis of the Troubles”; creating a Historical Investigations Unit with full police powers, which will be expected to solve the huge backlog of murders within five years; and the creation of an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) to “enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the (Troubles-related) deaths”.
A massive public consultation, asking the general population what they thought of the plans, closed last October.
Sinn Fein’s repeated calls to simply enact all Stormont House legacy ideas now come as the government is continuing to sift through 17,000 consultation responses.