Belfast Telegraph

Concern Queen's Speech won't include amnesty for soldiers who served during Troubles

Concerned: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Concerned: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

By David Young

There is anger after it emerged that a Bill to protect military veterans of the Troubles from repeated investigations into alleged historical offences appeared to have been dropped from today's Queen's Speech.

The first Queen's Speech under Boris Johnson's tenure as Prime Minister will set out the Government's proposed legislative programme for the new Parliamentary session.

But a Whitehall source told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "You will find more about sustainable cat litter in the Queen's Speech than about veterans."

They added: "There will be nothing in there for veterans. It's very disappointing.

"Boris wanted it in there but the people around him showed a lack of interest in having it included in the Queen's Speech."

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party would be "gravely concerned" if the Queen's Speech did not contain proposals to protect servicemen and women.

"We haven't had confirmation yet that this has been removed from the Queen's Speech - but obviously if this is true, we would be gravely concerned," he said.

"The Prime Minister made a promise to veterans that this issue would be addressed. If it has been put on hold, I think they will feel badly let down. If it is not in the Queen's Speech, we will use the opportunity of the debate afterwards to press the Government to reiterate its commitment, and to bring forward the necessary legislation."

The former head of the Army, General the Lord Dannatt, also said it was "unacceptable" that large numbers of former soldiers still faced the risk of prosecution years after they had left the service. He blamed the omission from the Queen's Speech on pressure from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

"It is a really major issue here which the Government has got to address," he told the BBC. "This was a golden opportunity to bring legislation to parliament so members of parliament and peers could debate the issue."

He added that he had repeatedly said that "no one is above the law" and where there was evidence of wrongdoing it should be investigated thoroughly. When soldiers had done wrong that's what should happen, he said.

"The vast majority of soldiers have carried out their duty faithfully according to their training and rules of engagement which they carried in their pockets.

"They should not fear they're going to be investigated in an aggressive fashion subsequently.

"That's what legislation is needed to protect soldiers from, not protect people who have done illegal things," he added.

In response, a UK Government spokesperson said: "The Prime Minister has been clear that we need to end the unfair trials of people who served their country when no new evidence has been produced and when the accusations have already been exhaustively questioned in court.

"There are different views on how to move forward and effectively address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland - that said, we are determined to make progress and legislate on the issue of legacy prosecutions.

"Our clear and overriding objective remains to provide a better way to address the past for all those affected by the Troubles - the NIO has consulted on the question of legacy prosecutions and we are engaging with the main parties in Northern Ireland, MPs in Westminster and wider society across Northern Ireland on the issue.

"This is so that we can reach a broad consensus and set out detailed, balanced and fair proposals on the best way forward," they added.

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