Troubles amnesty plan ‘will protect IRA terrorists who murdered hundreds of soldiers’

Opponents say the plans will ‘shut down routes to justice’ for those who lost loved ones

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Sunday 26 June 2022 18:42 BST
<p>Representatives from Relatives for Justice protested in Westminster last month against the UK government’s introduction of controversial legacy legislation</p>

Representatives from Relatives for Justice protested in Westminster last month against the UK government’s introduction of controversial legacy legislation

Government plans to protect a small number of veterans from prosecution will effectively hand an amnesty to IRA terrorists who murdered of hundreds of armed forces personnel, opponents say.

They will drive the point home by sending a letter to every MP in Britain, including Boris Johnson, detailing how many people from their own constituency were killed by republican terrorists during the Troubles.

The list includes the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings, and Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, the two children killed in Warrington in 1993.

New analysis by the House of Commons Library suggests that those affected by the plans in England, Scotland and Wales will predominantly be the families of servicemen and women killed by the IRA.

Of the 567 victims it identified as being from mainland Britain, 480 were members of the armed forces.

The government is pushing ahead with plans for an amnesty in a bid to keep its manifesto promise to also protect ex-soldiers from Troubles-era prosecutions.

A previous attempt had to be abandoned after lawyers warned that a statute of limitations on court cases would also have to apply to IRA members. Instead, ministers announced plans last month for a new “truth clause”, whereby soldiers and terrorists would only be offered immunity from prosecution if they offered to give details of their crimes.

Ministers claim the move will help families discover more about what happened to their loved ones, and could offer many in Northern Ireland a chance to heal.

But a former Conservative secretary of state for Northern Ireland is among many senior Tories to have expressed concerns about the plans. Julian Smith has urged his own government to “pause” the proposals.

The effective amnesty has also run into serious opposition in Northern Ireland, where the families of Troubles victims have told Mr Johnson the legislation would be “an affront to all modern standards of decency”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has criticised the move

Opponents accuse the government of planning to let terrorists off the hook because of pressure from backbenchers who are determined that former soldiers should not face trial over crimes committed up to four decades ago.

The new analysis shows that one member of the Royal Artillery regiment killed by the IRA was from Bournemouth, the town Conor Burns, a minister in the Northern Ireland Office, represents.

Dozens were from Greater London, where Boris Johnson currently holds the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Colum Eastwood, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, which obtained the analysis, said that “to take unilateral action on an issue as sensitive as legacy investigations over the heads of victims and survivors, political parties and the Irish government is unbelievable.

“In their rush to protect former soldiers, they will shut down routes to justice through inquests and civil cases, shield paramilitary killers, and fundamentally alter the rights of those who have lost loved ones. All without a serious conversation with those most affected,” he said.

MP Peter Kyle says hundreds of cases are still waiting to be resolved (PA)

Mr Eastwood added: “The people who will lose the most from this new process are those who have already paid the worst price for the failure to deal with the legacy of our past. This is no way to treat victims.”

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said: “Despite the Tories’ best attempts to dress this bill up as an act of support for our armed forces, there are currently a staggering 225 cases still under or awaiting investigation in which the victim was a member of the armed forces. But rather than delivering for victims and their families, this bill increases the likelihood that unsolved murders will never be solved, and that the people responsible will walk free.”

A UK government spokesperson said the legislation would deliver better outcomes for “all those most impacted by the Troubles, including victims and survivors, many of whom are also veterans and their families”.

Under the plans, families of all those who were killed or suffered serious injury will be able to “learn more about the circumstances and who was responsible”, they added.

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