Time limit on Troubles prosecutions should apply to all, Veterans Commissioner Danny Kinahan says
Northern Ireland’s Veterans Commissioner has suggested that any time limit on Troubles prosecutions “should apply to all”.
However, Danny Kinahan told the PA news agency that he does “not equate members of the armed forces with terrorists”, adding: “I never have and I never will.”
Mr Kinahan has pressed for a way to “put legacy behind us”.
His comments came following the resignation of veterans minister Johnny Mercer.
Mr Mercer said he had “no choice” but to leave the British Government after frustration at a lack of progress over legislation to protect British veterans who served during the Troubles.
The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which is going through its final stages in Parliament, was developed in response to legal claims made after operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but does not cover incidents in Northern Ireland.
Mr Kinahan said he wants to see engagement over legacy prosecutions.
“We have all got red lines, I don’t want to see any veterans going to court that don’t have to or shouldn’t be, but there are cases that must go there from all sides,” he told the BBC, pointing out that 90% of killings were carried out by terrorists or non state forces.
“I don’t support anything that stops someone who should be going to court going to court but we do need to put some limit here because you have cases here bubbling on people who served 30/40 sometimes close to 50 years ago and from all the people you talk to, we’re not likely to get any prosecutions from it and we’re about to spend an absolute fortune going through it.”
Mr Kinahan mooted a limit of 10 years for all cases.
“I think it has to be for everyone,” he said.
“We need to get people to move to pink lines or be ready to bend and let us find a way to look after people… the talk was this could cost us as much as a billion, it’s going to take seven to 15 years to go through the remaining cases.
“Is that really what we want? We need to minimise the number of cases that are coming up, let society move on and at the same time, try and find a way for families to find out what happened to their loved ones and help them.”
However, both the DUP and Sinn Féin disagreed with Mr Kinahan’s position.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said there is “no equivalence between terrorists who go out to murder and maim and those veterans… who go out to serve their country and protect”.
“People who stepped outside the law and murdered and did things they shouldn’t do… should be held to account.”
Mrs Foster said many who lost loved ones still hope for justice.
“They know… that the prospects of getting justice for their loved ones is receding, however we cannot take that hope away for justice,” she said.
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard expressed concern that a time limit on prosecutions may mean some families “would not be able to get justice”.
“There can’t be that hierarchy of justice, everybody should be equal in the eyes of the law,” he said.
In statement to PA, Mr Kinahan said he does “not equate members of the armed forces with terrorists”.
“I never have and I never will – there is no comparison between those individuals who put on the uniform of the Crown to protect law and order and those who went out to indiscriminately murder innocent civilians or members of the security services,” he said.
“When it comes to the rule of law, however, everyone is treated equally under the law.
“As the voice of veterans in Northern Ireland, I want to see veterans treated with the respect they deserve as they bore the brunt of terrorism and all its horrors, and did so on behalf of us all.
“It is therefore imperative that veterans have a key role in shaping any future proposals and I will do all I can to ensure that happens.”
Mr Kinahan and Mrs Foster spoke of regret at the resignation of Mr Mercer yesterday.
However, Mr Hazzard welcomed his departure, claiming he had “offered nothing positive or healing or consensus when it comes to dealing with legacy here in the north”.