THE MINISTRY of Defence has defended a social media post appealing for former British soldiers to come forward over the killing of a Belfast man during the Troubles.
Bernard Watt, 28, was shot dead by the Army in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast on February 6, 1971.
An inquest into his death is due to be held in April after being delayed by efforts to find witnesses.
Taking to Facebook, the Parachute Regiment appealed to former soldiers and civilians in Ardoyne for information surrounding Mr Watt’s killing.
Almost immediately, the MoD was accused of perpetrating a “witch hunt” against former soldiers.
The Facebook post, which has been shared over 200 times, received hundreds of angry comments from commentators who added that army recruitment could suffer from the perceived efforts to prosecute ex-soldiers.
The original post has not been removed and asks for anyone with information about the circumstances surrounding Bernard Watt’s death to contact the MoD.
“Service records confirm that the Parachute Regiment were deployed in this area of West Belfast during the early part of 1971,” the post reads.
“The MOD requests that any former members of the Regiment with any knowledge of the incident, or anyone who can recall being deployed to Belfast during January-March 1971, gets in touch.”
One commenter said: “I'm struggling to comprehend what I've read here. Is the Parachute Regiment’s own Facebook page asking its former soldiers and loyal servants to GRASS on their mates?”
“Does the MOD really expect people to come forward with information that could ruin their friend’s lives or the memory of deceased ones?” said another.
Another Facebook user, who served in the 2nd Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, said the Parachute Regiment’s appeal had made his “blood boil".
“I was in 2 Para in the 70's did a fair few tours in Northern Ireland. I am 70 this year and can remember very little as will most of the ones I served with, if the MoD want to know who and where people were look in your f***ing records,” he said.
“I was in Whiterock on the patrol that was relieved by young Bell he took over my position and was dead, shot by a sniper before I got back to base, no one arrested or charged are they going to chase that one.
“Oh I forgot, they all got pardons.”
An MoD spokesman told The Irish Post: “To cooperate with the Coroner’s process, we must make all reasonable attempts to contact those who may have knowledge of a particular incident.
“Appropriate support is available to all those involved.”
Investigations into Mr Watt’s death have failed to get to the bottom of the incident in recent years.
Speaking on behalf of the Watt family, solicitor Padraig O'Muirigh told the BBC: "This inquest was directed by the Attorney General in 2012, almost five years ago, and to date there has been very little success in identifying soldiers involved on that particular day.
"This family never had a proper investigation and it's not about a witch hunt. An inquest is a fact-finding mission, it doesn't make decisions on criminal or civil liabilities so to call it a witch hunt is a gross exaggeration.”