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Coveney says Johnson promise to protect British soldiers from prosecution 'very concerning'

The prosecution of British soldiers for actions during the Troubles has proved controversial in the UK.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial at The Cenotaph.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson attending the annual Remembrance Sunday memorial at The Cenotaph.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated Nov 11th 2019, 1:15 PM

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to change the law to protect British soldiers from legal action is “very concerning”. 

The Tories want to end trials of former soldiers where no new evidence has been produced and the accusations have been questioned exhaustively in court.

Johnson said that, if the Conservative Party wins a majority at the election in December, he will amend the UK Human Rights Act so it does not apply to issues – including deaths during the Troubles – which took place before it came into force in 2000.

The promise came as the UK marked Remembrance Sunday. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar took part in the annual ceremony in Enniskillen alongside DUP leader Arlene Foster and UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith. 

The issue has proved particularly contentious amid the prosecution of “Soldier F”, a former soldier accused of two murders on Bloody Sunday. 

Soldier F, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the only person from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment ever to face trial over the deaths of 13 civil rights protesters and one passer-by in Derry in January 1972

In a tweet today, Coveney said the plans were “very concerning”. 

“Governments and parties have agreed an approach on legacy and reconciliation in NI. There is no statute of limitations, no amnesty, for anyone who committed crimes in NI,” Coveney said. 

“The law must apply to all, without exception, to achieve reconciliation.” 

In March, then-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley faced widespread criticism after she said that killings at the hands of security forces were “not crimes”. 

Bradley was forced to clarify that “where there is evidence of wrongdoing, it should always be investigated”. 

This isn’t the first time the UK government has objected to the prosecutions of soldiers who were involved in the Troubles. In May 2018, UK prime minister Theresa May said that she thought only people involved in the “armed forces” were being investigated. 

On RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland programme, Paul O’Connor, a lawyer from the Pat Finucane Centre, said that it was unlikely the UK government could legally enforce the plan. 

“Is it feasible or about to happen? I don’t think it is. They’re flying a kite,” he said. 

“They really don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. 

With reporting from Dominic McGrath and Hayley Halpin

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