Sammy Wilson says he has 'no sympathy at all' for Loughgall IRA team at the centre of legal challenge to Tory government's Troubles amnesty
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Mr Wilson said he has “no sympathy” with any of the paramilitaries who were shot by the SAS in the 1987 Loughgall ambush, an event which is at the centre of a new court case aimed at overturning the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023, which got Royal Assent on Monday.
A statement from “the Loughgall Truth and Justice Campaign” this week said the act is “an effort to deprive us, and all other families, from a human rights-compliant process which would ensure its agents are held to account” for the events of that day.
The group says it represents the relatives of the nine men killed that day, all but one of whom were on IRA “active service” (the other being nearby civilian motorist Tony Hughes).
Its statement complained about the inadequacy of the inquest proceedings into the men’s deaths, and said that legal proceedings had been launched against the act on behalf of the group.
So far, some 16 different groups or individuals are attempting to get the courts to review the Troubles amnesty with a view to overturning it.
The IRA men killed in the ambush had already been the subject of one inquest, but a new one was ordered in 2015.
They included Patrick Kelly, the leader of the East Tyrone IRA.
A number of the other dead paramilitaries were suspected of multiple murders, and guns recovered from the team had been in the killing of a UDR soldier days earlier.
Mr Wilson said that, with the government unwilling to change its mind on the amnesty, for some of those who want it scrapped a courtroom battle is now "the only action which is available".
But this, he warned, comes with its own problem: the risk of creating a long-running legal saga with little hope of success and which only ends up draining the public purse.
He also cautioned against the “muddled view” that everyone challenging the act is doing so on behalf of genuine victims, indicating that the IRA crew killed at Loughgall were “downright murderers” who “should never, ever be regarded as victims”.
Those eight men "went out with explosives to blow up a police station with everybody in it,” Mr Wilson said.
"They said they were engaged in a war, and they met people who were prepared to take the war to them, and they suffered the consequences.
"They weren't victims. They were willing perpetrators. They volunteered to go out and to try and kill people.
"They happened to be unfortunate enough to get caught by the security forces, who were there to protect lives...
"I've no sympathy for them at all."
When it comes to what to do about the almost universally rejected act, he said “personally, I don't know what the answer to it is”.
However, “if anybody thinks this legacy bill is going to put to bed forever the past in Northern Ireland, they need their heads felt; all it's done is reopen it and cause even greater anger among people who are victims”.