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Kirsty Wigglesworth
The Troubles

'The system is not fair': MPs criticise Theresa May over Northern Ireland amnesty

A “presumption against prosecution” for alleged offences committed by British soldiers has been proposed by the UK government.

MPS HAVE CRITICISED proposals that would exclude British soldiers from an amnesty in relation to deaths during the Troubles.

At least four MPs raised concerns in the House of Commons today about why British soldiers were being investigated for deaths in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, when British soldiers who were posted elsewhere were included in an amnesty. 

Last Wednesday, Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said she wanted soldiers to be covered by the amnesty, despite Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley ruling this out.

Mourdaunt said that “a statutory presumption against prosecution” for alleged offences committed in the course of duty more than 10 years ago covering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be implemented.

Although it would not include Northern Ireland, Mourdaunt said she thought it should.

In April, the Public Prosecution Service said that a former British solider who shot dead a 15-year-old boy in Derry during Bloody Sunday would be charged with murder.

There was a backlash against this, with politicians asking why it wouldn’t apply to British soldiers, and drawing comparisons between the ceasefire that was part of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement.

Speaking in the House of Commons today ahead of a statement on Brexit, Theresa May wasn’t criticised and attacked for her “ten-point plan” announced yesterday, but on the exclusion of British soldiers who were posted in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Ian Duncan Smith said that 43 years ago “I was ordered to serve in Northern Ireland to keep the peace from terrorists attacking people in Northern Ireland”.

“Theresa May has talked about an amnesty, but no one who served for the British army asked for amnesty. PSNI is issuing proceeding against them now with no new evidence. How can I say to my old colleagues that this government has not abandoned them?”

Theresa May replied by saying “there was much injury and loss of life during The Troubles”.

We want to ensure there is a fair and just system that will deal with these legacy issues. There’s been a disproportionate emphasis on police and armed forces. The system needs to have full support and enable people to see justice applied.

MP Owen Paterson continued the questioning on this issue. May said that there have been processes that aim to deal with deaths during the Troubles, but the problem was that “all processes that have been followed so far have been found to be flawed in some way”.

That is why it is necessary to go through this and to find a process that will not be flawed, that will be legally supportable and that will enable the fairness and justice that we all want to see to be brought to the fore.

Another MP Johnny Mercer said that the Prime Minister was “beginning to understand the level of fury of veterans in this country when it comes to the treatment of this place over the years”.

“…The most disturbing part of last weekend is the insinuation of equivocation of those who got up in the morning to murder women and children and civilians, and those who donned a uniform to protect the crown.

“Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity now to say that there is no equivocation between those two groups, and the line that preferential treatment should not be given to veterans is not right?”

May replied: “Can I say that it is absolutely clear that I value the sacrifice, the bravery, the commitment of our armed forces work in Northern Ireland and police in Northern Ireland that allowed us to get to a stage today where we have the Good Friday Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland for many years now and long may that continue. There is no question of equating that with acts of terrorists.

What the implication of his question is putting in place a system which would equate soldiers with terrorists, a system any statute of limitations, any amnesty would have to apply across the board. I do not want to see an amnesty for the terrorists. 

MP Mark Francois raised the case of “a Dublin-born” Chelsea pensioner who transferred to the British army and was posted in Belfast during the Troubles.

“In 1972 he killed an IRA gunman who was about to assassinate one of his comrades at a guard post. 47 years later, he is now being investigated by the PSNI. He is watching these proceedings now from his home at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. He asked me to ask you this:

I served my Queen and country in uniform for over 20 years and I was commended for my service in uniform in Northern Ireland. Acting under lawful orders I killed a terrorist  who was about to kill one of my comrades and yet I’m being investigated as if I were a criminal.
The IRA have letters of comfort, we don’t. Why prime minister, are you pandering to Sinn Fein and the IRA while throwing veterans like me to the wolves? 

Theresa May thanked the man for his service, and gave the following reply.

“It is not the case that the terrorists have an amnesty currently, and it has been made very clear that evidence of criminal activity will be investigated and people will be brought to justice. What I want to ensure is that we do have a fair and just system.”

“At the moment I do not think the system is operating fairly.”

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