Brokenshire and MoD at loggerheads over Troubles soldier legacy cases
A battle has erupted at the heart of the UK Government over how to deal with legacy issues involving troops who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
It has been reported that Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon wants legislation to be inserted into the Bill to prevent authorities launching enquiries into former soldiers in their 60s and 70s unless new evidence is brought forward.
But Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is said to be pushing for this part of the Bill to be taken out so that cases can be reopened.
The draft Bill is currently being circulated around Government departments before it is presented to Parliament.
The Government is also considering putting an upper age limit on who can be investigated, a five-year time limit on how long an inquiry can last, and a limit on the maximum sentences for anyone found guilty.
A Government spokesman did not deny the Defence Secretary and the Northern Ireland Secretary disagreed over how to deal with legacy matters involving Army veterans, as reported by the Daily Mail yesterday.
The spokesman added: “Finding a better way to address legacy matters is a priority for the UK Government.
“We will be consulting fully on these proposals so that we get this right and give victims, survivors and other interested parties a full chance to put their views forward.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, a former soldier, described the proposals as “flawed”.
“What they are proposing to bring forward on legacy issues is flawed and severely unbalanced because the new legacy historical investigation unit is now going to investigate every single killing conducted by the British military, but it is not going to do similar for every killing of British soldiers, and that is completely unbalanced,” he said.
The former Army captain added: “I have a real concern about anything that looks like a statute of limitation.
“Somebody, somewhere, will want to have a statute of limitation for the British military and they will want it for the right reasons, but what they will end up doing is give equivalence to the British military along with the terrorists, and that terrorists will use those same rules to ensure that that statue of limitation covers them, and we cannot allow that to happen.”
East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson, who sits on the House of Commons defence committee, said: “The DUP have consistently campaigned against any one-sided focus on Army veterans who are being targeted for prosecution.
“There should be no rewriting of the past and we were pleased to get defence committee agreement on the need for a statute of limitations.
“It is encouraging that the Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, recognises the concerns of those who served in Northern Ireland and upheld the protection and safety of those living here.
“We welcome positive noises from the Ministry of Defence on this regard and look forward to their formal response.”
Mike Ritchie, case worker for Relatives For Justice, said the group was against forbidding investigations into soldiers, regardless of their age.
He said: “We would be opposed to any kind of partial amnesty, which is basically what this is.
“The advice that was given to the defence select committee that was looking into this was that you couldn’t have legislation that favoured only one section.
“If you were to bring in something, then it would have to apply across the board and that it could not just apply to British soldiers, that would be in breach of international law.”
Military chiefs have previously condemned as “disgraceful” the decision to re-examine cases involving veterans dating back nearly 50 years.
Earlier this year Prime Minister Theresa May criticised the investigations.
It emerged in March that the PM had sent a letter of support to veterans who believe they are being unfairly targeted.
She wrote: “The UK Government is concerned that the whole system of addressing the past in Northern Ireland is unbalanced and is not working well in anyone’s interests.”
A spokesman for the Government told the Belfast Telegraph he didn't recognise the reporting of a rift between Sir Michael Fallon and James Brokenshire.