Belfast Telegraph

Fresh inquiries into veteran Troubles soldiers 'deep insult'

Prime Minister Theresa May meets military personnel and their families at the London headquarters of Joint Forces Command
Prime Minister Theresa May meets military personnel and their families at the London headquarters of Joint Forces Command

By Josh Thomas

New investigations into veterans - including Chelsea Pensioners - who served in Northern Ireland are "a deep insult", a ex-cabinet minister has said.

Former Tory defence minister Mark Francois was speaking as Theresa May praised the armed forces as the "guarantors of British life" in her final military speech as Prime Minister.

Mr Francois criticised the treatment of veterans who served in Northern Ireland, saying some former soldiers are facing investigations over historical allegations. It comes amid claims IRA members have got off "scot-free".

Plans have been announced for legislation to provide stronger protection from repeated probes into historical allegations for veterans of overseas conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As it stands, the law will not apply to those who served in Northern Ireland, although Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has previously said she intended to find a way they could be afforded similar protection.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Francois said: "One group of veterans who undoubtedly deserve our respect are the veterans of Northern Ireland who served on Operation Banner to uphold the rule of law against the IRA.

"Yet some of them now face subsequent investigations 50 years on, even including Chelsea Pensioners, while the IRA are scot-free with letters of comfort from Tony Blair.

"Does the Secretary of State agree that, as some have recently suggested, to quote 'treat both sides the same' is not only patently ludicrous but a deep insult to those veterans without whose courage there never would have been a Good Friday Agreement in the first place."

Ms Mordaunt replied: "Although we have obligations under the Stormont House Agreement and we have to approach these things in different ways, our obligations to our veterans, whether they served on an operation on UK soil or whether they served on an operation overseas, are the same obligations."

Yesterday, outgoing prime minister Mrs May reassured service personnel that she expects her successor will continue to commit to the Nato spending target. She met troops and their families at the headquarters of Joint Forces Command in Northwood, north west London.

"You are not just a part of British life - you are the guarantors of British life. The foundation of our freedom. The protectors of our democracy," Mrs May said.

"And for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude."

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