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Theresa May warns that laws stopping soldiers being pursued over NI violence 'will cover terrorists as well'

Legislation on the issue is expected to be forthcoming.

Image: PA

Updated May 11th 2021, 8:55 PM

FORMER UK PRIME Minster Theresa May has told the House of Commons that any legislation that would protect British soldiers from prosecution over Troubles-era violence would likely cover the actions of terrorists as well.

It had been reported that Johnson’s government was to introduce a statute of limitations to stop people being charged over incidents that occurred before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. 

The Times and Daily Telegraph had said the bar on prosecutions would apply across the board, including former British Army soldiers and paramilitaries, but that an exemption would still enable war crimes, such as torture, to be prosecuted. 

The UK government did not announce any immediate legislative plans to prevent future Troubles prosecutions but has insisted laws in this area will come “in due course”.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II read out the government’s legislative plans in the House of Lords today but the programme did not refer to a bill to deal with legacy issues in Northern Ireland. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said however that legislation is forthcoming. He said that the UK government’s legacy package will deliver “better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans”, focused on reconciliation and ending the “cycle of investigations”. 

However, May warned any such legislation would not just apply to the British army.

“The argument for the protection of veterans has consistently failed to understand one basic point, you cannot legislate simply to protect British soldiers from prosecution, any legislation to protect British soldiers will cover terrorists as well,” she said.

“It’s a very simple fact but it seems impossible for many people to accept, but once you recognise the position then the options become clearer – because it becomes clear either you continue to investigate and lead to prosecutions for everyone, including veterans, or you draw some sort of line.

“My view is that I want to see Northern Ireland moving on and I think Northern Ireland will only truly have a bright future when it is able to look forward and not look over its shoulder at the past.”

Plans for an effective pre-1998 amnesty prompted condemnation from politicians on both sides of the border in Ireland

The development comes on the day that a coroner in Belfast ruled that the use of lethal force by British Army in the 1971 Ballymurphy Massacre was not justified. 

Last week, two former British paratroopers accused of the murder of an Official IRA leader were formally acquitted after prosecutors offered no further evidence at their trial. 

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Referring to the absence of the legacy bill from today’s Queen’s Speech, Downing Street’s official spokesperson said it did not mean it would not be published: “We want to do this promptly and we also want to make sure this is done properly.

“We have listened to a wide range of stakeholders since last March and we’ve also engaged substantially with the Irish government and the Northern Ireland parties on this issue and we will bring forward legislation in due course.” 

- With reporting by Press Association 

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Rónán Duffy

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