Belfast Telegraph

DUP: Confidence and supply renewal talks to include military covenant plea

Nigel Dodds made the comments in the Commons on Tuesday
Nigel Dodds made the comments in the Commons on Tuesday

By Josh Thomas and George Ryan, PA Political Staff

Talks on renewing the DUP's confidence and supply arrangement with a Tory-led UK Government will include legal underpinning of a military covenant in Northern Ireland, according to Nigel Dodds.

The DUP's Westminster leader made the pledge as MPs debated amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill connected to the armed forces and Troubles-related investigations.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Dodds said: "We are looking for the Government to report on progress on that matter and to ensure there is a legislative underpinning of the military covenant.

"Indeed I noticed today the campaign, I think it was in The Sun newspaper, for legislative underpinning of the covenant.

"I think I'm right in saying that both the leadership contenders, certainly one of them, has signed up to that, and I warmly welcome that."

He added: "Certainly, it is a matter that we will be sitting down to discuss as part of the renewal of confidence and supply, as to how we can actually in detail move these things forward."

Conservative MP Julian Lewis (New Forest East) spoke in favour of his amendment which would require the Government to provide a report on introducing a "presumption of non-prosecution" when it came to veterans who have already been investigated for incidents relating to the Troubles.

He added: "Where matters have been looked at previously and where there is no compelling new evidence a line should be drawn."

MPs later approved an amendment from Tory MP Julian Lewis by 308 votes to 228, majority 80, which requires the Government to report on the options available that ensure Troubles veterans can assist in a truth recovery process, for the benefit of bereaved families, without fear of prosecution.

Mr Lewis said during the debate: "Where matters have been looked at previously and where there is no compelling new evidence a line should be drawn."

For Labour, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd said: "There can never be a question of moral equivalence between a member of our armed forces and somebody engaged in terrorism on behalf of a paramilitary organisation."

Mr Lloyd said members of the armed forces sign an oath to "uphold the Queen and effectively the laws of Her Majesty".

He said only a small minority of soldiers "transgress the law".

Tory former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon added: "In my view, the distinction should be clear. Armed troops are not civilians, they have a duty to the state. The must obey the chain of command.

"They are issued with lawful weapons, they are trained to use lawful weapons, and indeed they are punished if they are found to be misusing them. They do not, unlike the terrorist, set out each morning with the intent to kill.

"The terrorist, by contrast, has at some point acquired an unlawful weapon, an illegal gun or a bomb, and would only be doing that if he or she intended to do harm with it."

PA

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