Witch hunt troops are STILL left in limbo as Irish Taoiseach rejects plan to end Troubles prosecutions
- Northern Ireland Secretary confirmed proposals to bring in statute of limitations
- Move is designed to end the pursuit of British veterans through the courts
- It will also give an amnesty to IRA and loyalist terrorists who killed thousands
Plans to end the witch hunt of British troops who served in Ulster suffered a setback last night after they were rejected by Dublin.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis yesterday confirmed proposals to introduce a statute of limitations covering all incidents in the Troubles.
The move is designed to end the pursuit of British veterans through the courts over incidents that occurred decades ago.
Controversially, it will also give an effective amnesty to IRA and loyalist terrorists who killed thousands.
Plans to end the witch hunt of British troops who served in Ulster suffered a setback last night after they were rejected by Dublin
The plan received a cautious welcome from veterans’ groups and some Tory MPs, including ex-PM Theresa May. But ministers faced a backlash from victims’ families and the main political parties in the Province.
Irish premier Micheal Martin said it was ‘wrong for many reasons’. UK ministers had seen Mr Martin as a pragmatist who might be persuaded to help push through the deal. But last night he told the Irish parliament he could not accept a ‘general amnesty for those who committed murder, whether there were State actors, or whether they’re involved in terrorist or illegal organisations’.
A Government source last night insisted ministers could press ahead ‘with or without’ support from Dublin or political leaders in the North, but conceded it would be ‘obviously better if they agree’.
The plans faced a mixed reaction from MPs yesterday. Mrs May said that young people in Northern Ireland would only be able to enjoy a brighter future if the Province ‘can find a path to reconciliation and is able to address and crucially move on from the legacy of the past’.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis yesterday confirmed proposals to introduce a statute of limitations covering all incidents in the Troubles
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who served with the Scots Guards in Northern Ireland, admitted the plans will ‘not be beloved of anybody’, but insisted: ‘We… all have to make some kind of sacrifice.’ He added: ‘My only concern is the vexatious pursuit of soldiers, who served like many of us did because that’s what their country called them to do, should end and they themselves be seen as victims.’
But former defence minister Mark Francois accused ministers of ‘procrastinating’ – and warned that veterans would have the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over them for at least another year even if the plans go through.
A government paper released yesterday to accompany Mr Lewis’ statement justified the proposed statute by revealing that in the last six years just nine people have been charged with Troubles-related deaths, resulting in a single conviction. It would take the Police Service of Northern Ireland more than 20 years to continue combing through around 1,200 cases under consideration.
It was confirmed yesterday that the ‘amnesty’ would also apply to all civil cases and inquests – ending any legal routes for the families of victims.
Earlier, former head of the Army, General Lord Dannatt, told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘This isn’t the solution to everyone’s problems – I call it the least worst solution.
‘But it does provide a mechanism whereby investigations can continue, questioning can continue so that families who lost loved ones during the Troubles get to know what happened but without the fear of prosecution being held above the heads of military veterans.’
Addressing MPs yesterday, Mr Lewis defended the plan, adding: ‘We are not pardoning terrorists for the heinous crimes they committed. There is no moral equivalence for those who upheld the law and those who sought to destroy it.’
Labour’s Northern Ireland spokesman Louise Haigh said: ‘At the heart of this is an amnesty in all but name which is profoundly offensive to many. Ministers appear to have conceded that the rule of law no longer applies.’
She added: ‘An amnesty for the republican and loyalist terrorists who tortured, maimed, disappeared and murdered men, women and children.
‘Addressing the toxic legacy of the past in this way, through unilateral imposition from Westminster, without the support of any political party in Northern Ireland, is foolish and unsustainable.’
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldon said the proposals ‘sacrifice justice’, while Alliance MP Stephen Farry told the Commons the plans were ‘shameful’. Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, of Sinn Fein, said: ‘The families have in the past taken to the streets and I’ve no doubt that they will do so again in their firm opposition to this.’
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