Daily Telegraph – 10 May 2018
How can it be right that 25, 30 or even 40 years after they served in Northern Ireland, British soldiers still face the prospect of prosecution for alleged criminal behaviour while on active duty during the Troubles? Many of those at risk are in their sixties and seventies, enjoying their retirement and their grandchildren.
They could be dragged into the ambit of a new unit which the Government has promised to set up to investigate unsolved killings. It had been thought that soldiers would be exempt but this is no longer certain. Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, is reportedly at odds with Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, over whether veterans who have already been investigated would be protected.
Julian Lewis, the Tory Chairman of the Commons Defence Select Committee, urged the Prime Minister yesterday to agree to a Statute of Limitations on pursuing these historical cases. But a consultation on setting up the unit has stalled because of the deadlock in restoring the Northern Irish executive, with no provision made for the anticipated amnesty. The DUP and Sinn Fein have both raised objections to such a move, with Unionists concerned it could lead to an amnesty for IRA terrorists, while the republicans remain anxious to pursue cases against the military.
However, the British state owes a duty to these soldiers that transcends the serpentine politics of the province. Theresa May said she wanted a solution to protect veterans. She should commit now to a time limit on prosecutions.
As Sir Michael Fallon, the former Defence Secretary, writes today, the alternative is a witch-hunt, and a one-sided one at that.
[For later developments, click here.]