British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
There has been angry political reaction, north and south of the border, to suggestions by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he would introduce a de facto amnesty for former British armed forces personnel in relation to the Troubles if he's successfully returned in the upcoming General Election.
All of the North's main political parties have rejected the suggestion, albeit for different reasons.
Under the proposals, the Conservatives would amend the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to cases such as Troubles killings, which happened before it came into force in 2000.
It is not the first time that Mr Johnson has made pronouncements in relation to the potential prosecution of former military personnel in relation to alleged crimes during the Northern Ireland conflict.
Just days before the Public Prosecution Service announcement in relation to prosecutions over Bloody Sunday in March this year, Mr Johnson suggested in the House of Commons that the motivation behind laying charges in relation to the deaths of 14 people in Derry on January 30, 1972 was political
In an article for the Daily Telegraph Mr Johnson wrote: "Are we really proposing to send old soldiers to die in jail – after we gave dozens of wanted terrorists a get-out-of-jail-free card under the Good Friday Agreement? Is that balanced? Is that fair?"
“The reason this whole thing stinks to high heaven – and the reason it should be denounced – is that there is absolutely nothing new for any trial to discover.
“The whole thing has been chewed and chewed again, supermasticated to oblivion.”
Reacting to the Conservartive Party leader's latest suggestions in dealing with the legacy of the past, SDLP Westminster candidate for Foyle, Colum Eastwood, said the situation was "an afro to victims."
“This Conservative Government is obsessed with the idea of granting amnesty to soldiers who committed grievous wrongs and heinous crimes during conflict in Northern Ireland.
“SDLP MPs previously stood in opposition to attempts to grant amnesty to the perpetrators of violence, effectively derailing legislation proposed by Peter Hain and backed by Sinn Féin.
“The legacy of our past must be dealt with compre- hensively and ethically.
“We will oppose any proposals aimed at erasing the ability of victims and survivors to access truth, justice and accountability.
“If this appears in Boris Johnson’s manifesto, it makes a mockery of the unreserved apology offered by David Cameron following the publication of the Saville Inquiry report.
“That day, a Conservative Prime Minister admitted that the actions of soldiers were unjustified and unjustifiable. Now, a new Conservative Prime Minister is seeking to whitewash the record. We will not let him.
“Uniform should offer no shield to accountability before the law. The sensitive balance of legacy investigations and institutions should not be offset by headline grabbing promises on a Tory manifesto.
“These reports further underline the need for MPs from Northern Ireland who will turn up to Westminster to face these proposals down,” he said.
Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has said any attempts to give current or former British soldiers immunity from prosecution is unacceptable.
The party's spokesperson on Justice said: “Once again we see proposals being brought forward by the British government to create a de facto amnesty from prosecution for British soldiers who committed offences in Ireland including the murder of Irish citizens.
“Any attempt to create a scenario where current or former British soldiers are given immunity from prosecution on top of the impunity they have enjoyed for decades is unacceptable.
“Mechanisms have been agreed by the two governments and political parties at Stormont House to deal with the legacy of the conflict and those most be implemented and put in place.
"Tanaiste Simon Coveney said the Irish Government had not been told or consulted about the announcement, and would be opposed to it.
"We have an agreement between both governments and the parties in Northern Ireland on how to progress, to manage very sensitive legacy issues, and to move a process of reconciliation forward.
“That was the Stormont House Agreement and within that agreement there's no amnesty for any one sector within Northern Ireland, or people who are involved in breaches of the law during the Troubles."
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said in a Tweet: "There must be no statute of limitations, no amnesty , for anyone who broke the law in NI.
“Where evidence exists they should face the law without exception. Under the GFA, the sentence may be curtailed, but justice should be done in court. Victims deserve due process at least."
Mr Johnson's comments also drew the ire of leading unionist figures.
Ulster Unionist Party justice spokesperson Doug Beattie, a former British soldier, said no one who committed crimes during the Troubles should be above the law.
"There are many people in England, Scotland and Wales who see Northern Ireland as a distant conflict and they just want to draw a line under it.
“The reality is, what (the Conservatives) are proposing is to draw a line under all prosecutions in Northern Ireland, and that means the terrorists who terrorised our communities, who butchered men woman and children, will get away scot-free and brag about what they did."
DUP leader Arlene Foster stated that she could not support any blanket amnesty for Troubles crimes and that her party would not support any such proposition in Parliament.
"What we want to see is vexatious claims against veterans being dealt with, and we have supported that right throughout the process.
“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," she said.
Last week the Derry News revealed updated figures held by the Public Prosecution Service on pending prosecutions in relation to the Troubles.
There are currently five Troubles related cases awaiting a decision on whether charges will be laid against suspects.
Three of the pending decisions involve republican suspects and two involve former police officers. There are now no pending decisions involving either loyalists or members of the British military.
The PPS say that since 2011, they have identified 32 cases that involving a high number of suspects that can be described as Troubles “legacy” cases in which prosecutorial decisions have now been made.
Seventeen of these cases have related to alleged offences involving republican paramilitaries and that eight of these cases have resulted in prose- cutions. Legal proceedings are still active in two of these cases.
The PPS also added that of the six cases involving republicans that have been concluded, there were two convictions and two cases in which proceedings were stopped – one because of the death of a suspect.
Of those six cases, the final two resulted in acquittals.
Eight of the 32 cases since 2011 related to loyalist paramilitary suspects. Decisions to prosecute were taken in four of these cases.
Convictions were secured in two of them whilst the remaining two cases are currently active. A further five cases involved potential cases against former British soldiers.
These cases involved a total of 22 suspects and 17 of those were reported in relation to Bloody Sunday.
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