Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been accused of interfering with the legal process after saying no killings by British soldiers or police officers during the Troubles were crimes.
The comment was made during questions in the House of Commons today.
Agreeing with DUP MP for South Belfast Emma Lyttle Pengelly that more than 90% of all killings and injuries during the Troubles were the result of acts of terrorism, Ms Bradley said "every single one of those was a crime".
She added: "The fewer than 10% that were at the hands of the military and police were not crimes.
"They were people acting under orders and acting under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way."
The remarks come a week before the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland is due to tell relatives of 14 civilians shot dead by soldiers on Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972 whether any of the killers will face charges.
There are also ongoing inquests into the killings of ten people during three days of shootings in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast in 1971. Families of the victims believe all were killed by soldiers.
Ms Bradley’s remarks provoked an angry response from Sinn Féin, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald calling for her to withdraw her comments and apologise.
Ms McDonald said she had written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
She said: "Karen Bradley's comments have caused great distress to the many victims of British State forces.
"The British Secretary of State should immediately withdraw her comments and apologise to these families.
"These comments can only be construed as political interference in the judicial system, which is unacceptable."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the Secretary of State of "publically interfering with the rule of law".
He said she had "a responsibility to apologise to families of state violence, as well as setting aside time to read a book on the history of Ireland".
The leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, was also highly critical. She described the comments as "appalling" and "an unwarranted and unjustifiable act of political interference".
A short time later, Ms Bradley used a point of order in the House of Commons to clarify her remarks, which she said "might have been open to misinterpretation".
She added: "I referred to deaths during the Troubles caused by members of the security forces. The point I was seeking to convey was that the overwhelming majority of those who served carried out their duties with courage, professionalism and integrity and within the law.
"I was not referring to any specific cases but expressing a general view. Of course, where there is evidence of wrongdoing it should always be investigated whoever is responsible.
"These are of course matters for the police and prosecuting authorities who are independent of government."
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland campaigns manager, said Ms Bradley should apologise for her comments.
She said: "Not only are they wholly undermining of the rule of law and due process but they are also extremely offensive to anyone who lost loved ones at the hands of the state and still await justice."
Earlier this morning, Mrs May told the House of Commons that the Ministry of Defence was looking at what can be done "to ensure service personnel are not unfairly pursued through the courts". She said this could involve new legislation.