Ben Lowry: Far from being too soft on the security forces, Karen Bradley has failed to defend them

Karen Bradley, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, apologises for her comments on legacy to the BBC. "Her grovelling apologies have merely vindicated her critics," writes Ben Lowry
Karen Bradley, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, apologises for her comments on legacy to the BBC. "Her grovelling apologies have merely vindicated her critics," writes Ben Lowry
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If Karen Bradley was to quit as secretary of state for Northern Ireland, then it should be for reasons almost opposite to the ones being hysterically demanded.

The demand is that she must go because she has insulted relatives of people killed by the state forces.

She clearly did insult them, particularly in her use of the word “dignified” in a paragraph that referred to killings (she presumably meant that the security forces were dignified in their overall service, as opposed to in their killings, but it sounded terrible).

But another, to my mind greater, reason why Mrs Bradley has shown herself perhaps unsuited to her role is the grave damage she has done to those of us who try to argue that the Troubles is being investigated in a grossly imbalanced way.

What she began to say in her now notorious House of Commons statement was true, that all terror acts were illegal. Republicans argue that they should not have been.

The 90% of Troubles killings that were by paramilitaries were all deemed illegal, because the state has a monopoly on violence.

But even unionists get confused on the status of the remaining 10% of killings, which were by state forces. They have tried to argue for proportionality in historic investigations by saying they should reflect the 10% state, but that makes it sound as if such killings were illegal. Clearly some of them were. The dispute is over how many.

At one end of the spectrum, republicans will not even accept that the SAS stopping a gang at Loughgall as it blew up a police station was legitimate. They say the men should have been arrested.

At the other end are those who say almost no army killings were wrong (few people argue this).

If Mrs Bradley had argued that the great majority of the 360 or so state killings were legal, even many of those that were tragic, it would have been a reasonable thing to say.

Sensitively done, it could have shifted the focus on to the fact that a massive 30% of PSNI legacy branch caseload of historic fatalities is killings by security forces.

This week the BBC, as it has done before, produced a graphic on its website that cites this 30% figure as if it disproves a legacy imbalance (because 70% of their caseload is killings by terrorists).

In fact it proves a gross imbalance. Even if the PSNI caseload of state killings was a lower share, and in line with the state’s 10% share of the killings, it would be an imbalance, because it would imply all such state killings were wrong.

You can argue, as Alison Morris said in response to me on Nolan Live, when I made the above point, that the imbalance redresses the fact that these killings were not fully investigated before. But you cannot say there is no imbalance.

So Mrs Bradley should have stuck to the point that state killings were 10% of the total, and mostly legal. When she bungled, her clarification should have been the end of the matter. Instead she apologised and then gave grovelling interviews that merely vindicated her critics.

She also said: “I am determined that those families who have been hurt by what I said will see justice.”

How? Order even more inquiries into state killings? Push for yet more soldier trials?

If the secretary of state did quit, it would be good to have a replacement who had absorbed this newspaper’s legacy scandal essays (see link below) given that Tories profess to be concerned at the undue focus on security forces and we are the only media outlet that has scrutinised that focus.

It would be good to have a secretary of state who explains that there can be no more millions spent on the murder of Pat Finucane without a raft of inquiries into who ordered neglected IRA atrocities, including the murder of Edgar Graham.

A secretary of state who tells ex RUC that a hunt for ‘collusion’ will not be indulged and that Stormont House was wrong to decide that police alone face misconduct probes.

A secretary of state who says that the civil service decision to fund legacy inquests will be rescinded pending a balanced legacy process.

A secretary of state who, instead of staying mute every time the consistently partisan Simon Coveney scolds London, immediately contradicts him — as was needed this week when amid the Bradley row he cited nationalist legacy grievances such as Finucane (and at the end made a brief mention of terrorism).

And a secretary of state who outlines how the role of the Irish state in letting its territory be an IRA safe haven, leading to murders of border Protestants, will be examined.

Letters on the opposite page, including from the ex MP David Burnside and the reconciliation activist, Trevor Ringland, show that a range of people are troubled by legacy (see link below).

We need a secretary of state who reflects those concerns, particularly now that the Tanaiste ignores neutrality and parrots the kind of legacy talk used by the political wing of an IRA that tried to wreck our society– but was prevented from it by RUC and army.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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Legacy scandal series of essays

Letters to the editor