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Prosecution protection 'could be extended to Northern Irfeland Troubles-era soldiers'

By Rebecca Black

Published 05/10/2016

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

The Government has hinted that soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles may be given legal protection from prosecution.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon indicated that he would soon announce changes that would help soldiers who had served here.

The Tory frontbencher said: "I'm aware there are a number of cases that are still proceeding, but some of the same problems arise - whether it's really possible to investigate fairly, relying on people's memories what is now 40 years ago and 30 years ago, whether it's really right to rely on testimony in cases like that.

"It is something that is of concern to me, that a number of those who served in Northern Ireland have been in touch with us about it - so you may hear more about that soon."

Under changes outlined at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham earlier yesterday, the Government suggested it could suspend parts of the European Convention on Human Rights at times of war.

The Prime Minister said the move should end an "industry of vexatious claims", which has seen veterans pursued through the courts over alleged mistreatment of combatants and prisoners more than a decade after the supposed events took place.

Theresa May also claimed that the move would reduce the burden on taxpayers, which has seen the Ministry of Defence spend more than £100m on Iraq-related investigations, inquiries and compensation since 2004.

A DUP MP said the plan to protect British troops from legal claims arising from future overseas conflicts should include cases from the Troubles. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson added: "We would like to see the legislation extended to include non-war civil insurgencies such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

"If the previous Labour Government can grant pardons to terrorists and issue letters of comfort to OTRs (On The Runs), this Government can certainly extend the legislation to cover allegations made against soldiers here. This would not represent an amnesty, but would afford legal protection to those who courageously protected the community here from terrorism."

However, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness opposed the move, voicing concern over whether it could affect plans to deal with the Troubles' legacy.

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