Northern Secretary Karen Bradley should go after crass comments

Posted By: March 09, 2019


Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus
“ Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has lost all credibility by her appalling declaration that British security forces cannot commit crimes because “they are following orders.” Apart from extreme Orange sectarians, there is a universal demand for her to resign, as exemplified by this article in the Irish Times of Dublin..”—Fr. Sean Mc Manus

Remarks hurt chances of successfully prosecuting security forces personnel for murder
Noel Whelan Irish Times. Dublin. Friday, March 8, 2019

The Northern Secretary Karen Bradley has said killings by the British army and police during the Troubles were “not crimes.”

The truly sorry state of Northern Ireland politics was revealed in full this week. Such is the dysfunctional nature of politics there currently, with the absence of any real outlet for political engagement or influence, that many of its politicians are focusing their effort elsewhere.

The SDLP has spent the last few months diverting much effort southwards into building a partnership with Fianna Fáil.

This week the SDLP’s former leader Mark Durkan, missing any significant outlet for his talents closer to home, decided his time could be better spent seeking to win a European Parliament seat for Fine Gael south of the Border.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Unionist Party’s only real activity is its involvement in the confidence-and-supply agreement with Theresa May’s government. They are enjoying the attention and tension around Brexit while they wait with understandable angst for the report from the “cash for ash” inquiry.

At the same time Sinn Féin, without Executive power or any real influence in the Brexit process, busies itself with photocalls about a hard border and seeks to rally its base by sniping in nasty terms at the PSNI.

This week also witnessed the curious incident of Northern Ireland’s most senior civil servant, David Sterling having to shout loud warnings about how horrific a no-deal Brexit would be for small and medium businesses in Northern Ireland and its food producers.

The voice of politics is so demented, distracted or diminished that Sterling, who is effectively running Northern Ireland at this time, felt the need to try to break through on the point.

Northern Ireland is now subject to direct rule in all but name.

On Tuesday Northern Ireland’s annual budget was rushed through Westminster in a sparsely attended debate If all that wasn’t depressing enough, this week we again got to see how weak the supposed leadership of Northern Ireland at British cabinet level truly is.

Ministerial incompetence

Having a mediocre, gaffe-prone, secretary of state responsible for Northern Ireland would be precarious at the best of times.

That responsibility for Northern Ireland has been left in the hands of Karen Bradley at this crucial moment is truly reckless.

The potential for lasting damage to the North’s peace process through ministerial incompetence from London has been ever-present since Stormont was suspended. This week that risk became a reality.

It was shocking to hear Bradley tell the House of Commons that the killings by the military and police were not crimes but that they were all “people acting under orders and fulfilling their duty in a dignified and appropriate way”.

It is difficult to understate how crass and destructive Bradley’s comments were. They were, of course, insensitive to the families of those killed in such incidents. They were damaging to the delicate task of dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. Her contribution also again exposed her lack of knowledge or understanding of the complexity of Northern Ireland’s troubled history and its present-day politics.

It was no coincidence that her remarks were uttered in response to a question from a Democratic Unionist Party MP, Emma Little-Pengelly. Such is the effort and instinct of the current Tory government to lean towards the DUP and its narrative, even on legacy issues, that it seems they will say anything to assuage the DUP irrespective of the harm done to the British government’s capacity, limited as it was, to be a broker across the North’s divide.

Bradley’s remarks will have consequences which will manifest themselves immediately and in the medium term. What she had to say will be deployed repeatedly in both the political and legal realms to resist prosecutions for any of the crimes and collusion committed by members of the British forces during their long dirty war in Northern Ireland.

Even if Bradley’s remarks as secretary of state don’t operate to stop such prosecutions, they will be referenced repeatedly before juries by defense counsel in any such cases to suggest official government skepticism of the appropriateness of putting anyone on trial for those crimes.

As the official voice of government in Northern Ireland, speaking in parliament itself, Bradley placed a substantial load on the scales against the prospect of successfully prosecuting any security officer for murder or manslaughter in Northern Ireland, irrespective of the circumstances in which they killed.

Once the Brexit crisis is resolved, it is hoped there will still be enough mutual respect left in Anglo-Irish relations to fuel a new effort by the two governments to usher the North’s parties towards restarting or redesigning the Stormont political institutions.

They will have a mountain to climb. Bradley is now so damaged she can be of no use to them in that climb. Shuffling her out of Northern Ireland now or soon would be a good start.