Northern Ireland news

Boris Johnson: Stormont deal strikes balance between support for soldiers and giving victims truth

Boris Johnson with Sinn Féin MLA and assembly speaker Alex Maskey. Picture by Hugh Russell

STORMONT'S new power-sharing deal strikes the right balance between supporting military veterans of the Troubles and giving victims of violence the truth, Boris Johnson said.

Mechanisms agreed by the parties as part of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement are finally set to be implemented as part of last week's accord.

They include the creation of a Historical Investigations Unit to examine unsolved cases, an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, and an Oral History Archive.

However, the Conservatives' general election manifesto pledges that there will be no unfair prosecutions of people who served their country where there is no new evidence.

Mr Johnson was asked about the potential contradiction by The Irish News at Stormont yesterday.

He said: "I think that the parties here who have revived Stormont have done a very good job of finding a balance between giving people who are in search of the truth the confidence that they need but also giving people who served our country in the armed services the confidence and certainty that they need.

"We will certainly be going forward as a UK government with our manifesto commitment that you will recollect to ensure that there will be no unfair prosecutions of people who served their country where there is no new evidence to bring forward and I think that is the right balance to be struck."

Former soldiers and backbench MPs at Westminster have campaigned against "vexatious" prosecutions of soldiers over wrongdoing during the conflict.

A UK Government source acknowledged it would not be easy to balance the commitments made in the Stormont deal and the Tory manifesto.

He said: "I'm not pretending this is easy, it isn't. We are fully aware we have two different commitments and we need to work our way through them."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Nothing in this agreement stops us from delivering on our manifesto and Queen's Speech commitments to stop vexatious claims and provide certainty for veterans.

"We have always been clear we would implement the Stormont House agreement in a way that provides certainty for veterans and justice for victims.

"This commitment goes no further than the Queen's Speech and the manifesto on which the government was elected, other than providing a timeline for the legislation.

"We will work in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence and other Whitehall departments, and in the context of consultation responses, to develop Stormont House proposals in the coming weeks."

British veterans minister Johnny Mercer acknowledged there would be "a lot of questions" around legacy issues but also insisted the government remained committed to protecting former troops from vexatious prosecutions.

In a video message he said: "What this does is lay out a timetable going forward but nothing changes, we are totally committed to what the Prime Minister has said previously about ending vexatious prosecutions of our troops where there is no new evidence.

"I understand there will be plenty of questions about this, we have got a lot to work through in the coming weeks and months, particularly with other departments across Whitehall and working with the executive in Northern Ireland."

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