Belfast Telegraph

Defence Secretary 'backs IRA amnesty if it ends Troubles soldiers prosecution' - report

Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The UK Government Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has secretly backed an amnesty for IRA terrorists - if it means an end to soldiers being prosecuted for Troubles offences, according to a report.

The Sun newspaper reports of a letter it has seen from Mr Williamson to Prime Minister Theresa May.

There have been calls for an amnesty for soldiers being pursued for alleged crimes committed during the Troubles with protests held in Belfast and around the UK.

However, legal experts have said any legislation would not be able to focus on one particular group.

“If this means a wider amnesty, so be it,” the defence secretary wrote to Mrs May suggesting veterans needed "the protection" of a statute of limitations according to the report.

It’s comes before the launch of a consultation on dealing with legacy issues in Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said any amnesty for IRA atrocities would be “unacceptable”.

While the DUP - which supports Theresa May’s Government - has said it supports “an end to the persecution of security force personnel” while opposing a general amnesty.

“It is clear to me that our veterans need the protection of a statute of limitations in respect of Troubles-related offences,” Mr Williamson - who helped broker the Tory confidence and supply deal with the DUP - is reported to have wrote.

Prime Minister Theresa May with First Secretary of State Damian Green (far right), Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, and DUP Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds, as DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson shakes hands with Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief Whip Gavin Williamson inside 10 Downing Street in June 2017 to seal the confidence and supply deal.

“If this means a wider amnesty, so be it: in the public mind the effect of the Good Friday Agreement sentencing reforms, the ‘On the Run’ letters which inadvertently led to the failure of the prosecution of John Downey for the 1982 Hyde Park bombings, and the apparent disproportionate focus of the current investigation on security forces amount to a de facto amnesty for terrorists already.

“It is time to give our veterans the protection they deserve.”

Just over 300 people were killed by troops during the Troubles and all are being reviewed.

In May the prime minister said the system for investigating the past in Northern Ireland was “unfair” saying only people in the “armed forces” or “law enforcement” were being investigated despite official figures suggesting otherwise.

And Karen Bradley said the status quo regarding the legacy of the Troubles “sees a disproportionate emphasis on the actions of the military and law enforcement”.

“There is very little emphasis on the actions of paramilitary terrorists,” she added.

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