General Election

Tories criticised over plan for British Army Troubles prosecutions

Boris Johnson, after pulling a pint watched by British defence minister Johnny Mercer (right) as he meets with military veterans at the Lych Gate Tavern in Wolverhampton 

Boris Johnson's pledge to change the law to protect British Army veterans from legal action has drawn widespread criticism.

If they win a majority at next month's general election, the Conservative Party will amend the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to incidents - including deaths during the Troubles - which took place before the law came into force in 2000.

The leaders of both Sinn Féin and the DUP condemned the move and there was a warning it could create a "moral equivalence between veterans and the terrorist".

Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald said it was outrageous that anybody, Tory or otherwise, would propose to create further hardship and frustration for families seeking justice.

May 2018: British soldiers 'will not be protected from Troubles prosecutions'

The pledge has attracted criticism in the north and Republic. UUP MLA Doug Beattie, a retired British Army captain, claimed it risked creating "a moral equivalence between veterans and the terrorist".

DUP leader Arlene Foster echoed that concern.

"What we want to see is vexatious claims against veterans being dealt with, we do of course, and we have supported that right throughout the process," she said.

"But we cannot have a situation where anybody who has committed a heinous crime is actually just swept aside in an effective amnesty and we will not support that in Parliament."

Ms McDonald, speaking at the launch of Sinn Féin's General Election campaign in Belfast on Monday, said: "We see here again Tory kite-flying and game-playing in a way that is reckless and frankly disgraceful."

Ms McDonald said: "Those families who wish to pursue justice should face no impediment, that the truth must out, that the British state record here of mayhem and violence and state collusion, that that story will be told even as that same establishment tries to frustrate the efforts of families - many of whom for half a century have sought simply the truth."

Mark Thompson, brother of a man shot dead by the British Army in 1990 in Belfast, dismissed the proposal.

He said: "It is hurtful for families that in their homes hear the danger of soldiers being presented as victims when they have buried their own loved ones without any recourse or redress or any form of accountability."

He added: "It is all rhetoric, misinformation and a bit of propaganda."

The Dublin government also expressed concern.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney tweeted: "There is no statute of limitations, no amnesty for anyone who committed crimes in Northern Ireland.

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

Mr Beattie said: "It will set a case law precedent which will apply to the terrorist as well.

"So the terrorist will use that as his defence in order to get off with any of the crimes that he did.

"That will create a moral equivalence between veterans and the terrorist, which I cannot support in any shape or form."

DUP Lagan Valley Westminster candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We fully support our soldiers and veterans. 

"Our Confidence and Supply Agreement ensured the government invested more in our Armed Forces and the care of our veterans and are pursuing full implementation of the Military Covenant in Northern Ireland. 

"We have consistently called for greater legal protection for our armed forces and for a legacy process that pursues justice for the innocent victims of the terrorists who were responsible for over 90 per cent of killings during the Troubles.  

"We want to see more detail of the government’s proposal but we will not support any legislative change which helps terrorists escape justice. That is why we want a strong team of DUP MPs elected to the House of Commons to maximise our influence over any changes."

Mr Johnson said a Tory government would "always support" the Armed Forces.

He said: "As we remember the ultimate sacrifice made by our brave men and women for their country just over a century ago, it is right that we renew our commitment to the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen and veterans of today."

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said she supports the Tories' plans to end vexatious claims against veterans but added that it should be up to the prosecuting authorities.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, she said: "Their main purpose is to stop vexatious and unfair actions; who could be against that? I don't think that, personally, you need to change the Human Rights Act about that."

She added: "In the end, it will be for the prosecuting authorities to decide when they prosecute and when they don't prosecute, and of course they shouldn't allow for vexatious or unfair actions."

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