The families of victims killed by British soldiers during the Troubles have called on veterans groups to cancel their “deeply hurtful” demonstrations.
A rally protesting the prosecution of a former British soldier charged with murdering unarmed civilians during Bloody Sunday took place last weekend in Belfast, following on from a number of similar events in recent weeks.
A small counter-protest, organised by victims’ relatives and campaigners, took place across from Belfast City Hall where the gathering was held.
There are at least three prosecutions against British soldiers underway. Thousands of bikers from across the UK rode into London last week to protest against the same prosecution of a British soldier over Bloody Sunday.
They were also demonstrating against the decision to charge a retired serviceman, known as Soldier F, with murder and attempted murder.
He is the only member of the Parachute Regiment to face prosecution over the killings of 13 people at a civil rights demonstration in Derry in 1972.
Rallies organised by Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans, a campaign group founded to support ex-British service members being investigated for crimes, including murder, are causing hurt to families who lost loved ones during the Troubles.
John Teggart, whose father was killed during the 1971 Ballymurphy massacre in which 11 people were killed by British soldiers in west Belfast, said: “We are asking those who support murder suspect Soldier F to think of the families who lost their loved ones in Derry 1972 . We also ask all Para flags to be taken down.”
An inquest into the Ballymurphy shootings is still hearing evidence.
Teggart also suggested that the campaign group is now earning support from right-wing groups and loyalist paramilitary organisations. “Shame on those who support this murderer,” he said, referring to Soldier F.
Many Tory backbenchers have voiced their opposition to veterans being prosecuted.
At the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans march last week in London, however, the only political party which showed it’s full support was UKIP, the far-right, anti-Islam party.
Gerard Batten, it’s leader, pledged his full support to ex-soldiers facing prosecution at a rally last week.
The Ministry of Defence has estimated that between 150 and 200 former soldiers and police are under investigation for alleged actions taken during the Troubles.
A split has opened up between the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence over how to deal with historical accusations, the Guardian reported last week.
The British government has considered a statute of limitations for former British soldiers accused of killings. The Irish government said any kind of amnesty would breach legacy peace agreements between Ireland and the UK.
By Colin Gannon