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British government amnesty proposal for Troubles soldiers concerning

THE British government's dismal treatment of victims and legacy issues has been highlighted once again after it said it would legislate to protect soldiers who served during the Troubles.

The pledge came in the wake of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's sacking of veterans minister Johnny Mercer, who had expressed frustration at lack of progress in relation to a Conservative manifesto commitment to give legal protection to military personnel deployed in Northern Ireland.

Mr Mercer had been guiding legislation through Parliament designed to give soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan a statutory presumption against prosecution and making it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted more than five years after an alleged incident; he and some others wanted to extend these measures to Troubles veterans.

As he left office, Mr Mercer fired furious broadsides at Mr Johnson's government, denouncing it as a "cesspit" and "the most distrustful, awful environment" where "almost nobody tells the truth".

With that assessment in mind, he may not have been hugely surprised that just the next day his successor at the Ministry of Defence, Leo Docherty, told the Commons that the government will indeed bring forward a law aimed specifically at Northern Ireland soldiers.

"A Bill will soon come forward from the Northern Ireland Office that will protect our Northern Ireland veterans of Operation Banner and address the legacy of the Troubles," Mr Docherty told MPs.

Downing Street said details of the legislation would be confirmed in next month's Queen's Speech.

However, the intention to offer what amounts to a form of amnesty for military personnel is deeply concerning.

That the same legislation will somehow also "address the legacy of the Troubles" should sound alarm bells; it suggests this profound issue is merely a subsidiary aspect of a general Conservative commitment to offer exceptional treatment to soldiers.

Together, it gives the impression that the British government is tone deaf, and more concerned with the welfare of soldiers than it is with Troubles victims and their families.

Pursuing an amnesty for soldiers is highly problematic, not least because it would also have to apply to paramilitaries.

It also places some citizens outside the rule of law and denies the fair application of justice and due process.

The government needs to think again and implement the terms of 2014's Stormont House Agreement which have remained unfulfilled for far too long.

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