Veterans protest over Army prosecutions for Troubles killings

Image caption,
The rally was organised by the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans Group

Army veterans have staged a rally in Belfast in protest against what they called "imbalanced" investigations into killings by soldiers in the Troubles.

It was organised by the Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans group.

A dissident republican group, Saoradh, held a counter-demonstration nearby.

About 200 people attended the demonstrations on both sides. There was heavy police presence around Belfast City Hall and a police helicopter flew overhead.

Both protests passed off without incident.

The Ulster Unionist MLA and Army veteran Doug Beattie was introduced as the main speaker at the rally and told the crowd: "We all deserve justice, and what we're seeing now is a Frankenstein version of justice which is all focused one way and no other way.

"We do not want preferential treatment," Mr Beattie said.

"If you break the law then you should face the law - be you soldier, be you a policeman, be you a member of the public or be you a politician - they all should face the law.

"But what we are seeing here is an imbalance and that's why we are standing here."

Image caption,
Doug Beattie is a retired Army captain who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery

In remarks addressed to the dissident protest across the road, Mr Beattie said: "They have a right to walk, they have a right to protest, because we fought for their right to protest.

"We fought for their freedom of speech."

However, Tarlach MacDhonaill from Saoradh said he did not understand the demand of the Army veterans.

"I know that they have dressed it up to say they want some form of military covenant for their crimes in Ireland and they want some form of amnesty," he said.

"I've heard them talk on the radio about immunity but as somebody who lives within the nationalist community, I'd like to ask them how do they believe they haven't had an amnesty because not one of them has done a day in jail for any of their murders."

Image caption,
There was a heavy police presence in the city centre on Friday morning

In January, the director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland said critics who accused him of treating former soldiers unfairly had insulted him and his office.

Barra McGrory QC said he was mystified by claims he did not act impartially when he brought charges against a small number of ex-soldiers.

However, lawyers representing former soldiers facing prosecution have said they are being 'unfairly treated'.

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