Sinn Féin criticises Hain comments on Bloody Sunday
Northern Ireland has ‘escaped from the conflict, but is still trapped by its leftovers’, says former NI secretary of state
Former Labour Northern Ireland secretary of state Peter Hain said he saw “no point in endlessly searching for evidence of crimes committed so many years ago”. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA.
Former Labour Northern Ireland secretary of state, Peter Hain, has been strongly criticised by Sinn Féin and the SDLP for saying that British soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday should not be prosecuted.
“Instead of continually inquiring and having criminal investigations on all sides, it is important to cement in the current situation . . . rather than [be] continuously diverted to the past,” Mr Hain said.
More than 1,000 people who gave evidence to the long-running Saville inquiry into the deaths of 14 unarmed civilians in Derry were last week encouraged to contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
The investigation has provoked fury among Conservative MPs, particularly after the decision not to prosecute IRA member John Downey over the 1982 Hyde Park bombing because he had received assurances that he was not wanted for prosecution.
Former members of the parachute regiment received letters last December telling them that PSNI officers would seek to interview them over the events in Derry 40 years ago, warning that they could be named if a decision was later made to prosecute them.
However, Mr Hain said, Northern Ireland had “escaped from the conflict, but is still trapped by its leftovers”, adding that he saw “no point in endlessly searching for evidence of crimes committed so many years ago.
“If we are going to draw a line on historic and, in all probability, fruitless investigations, that must include the pursuit of soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday”.
In early 2006, Mr Hain was forced to withdraw legislation that would have let people guilty of offences – including so-called IRA on-the-runs – go before a special judge, where they would be released on licence.
The legislation had provoked fury from unionists and Conservatives and the SDLP, while Sinn Féin eventually turned against it when they realised it would also apply to RUC, or British army members.
Eight years ago, Mr Hain had said it would "illogical, indefensible and unconscionable" not to offer an indemnity to soldiers, or police if one was to be given to paramilitaries, Mr Hain, writing in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, said: "I was never going to agree to exempt terrorists and not our soldiers, so I withdrew the Bill. Frankly, I was glad to see the back of it."
Declarations by First Minister Peter Robinson that the DUP was never told are “risible”, he said, saying the 2009 report from former Church of Ireland archbishop, Robin Eames, and former vice-chairman of the police board for the PSNI, Denis Bradley, illustrated how much was known about it.