Belfast Telegraph

Jeremy Hunt says veterans and Provos should be treated the same - 'nonsense', says DUP

Jeremy Hunt says he will write off tuition fee debts for young entrepreneurs (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Jeremy Hunt says he will write off tuition fee debts for young entrepreneurs (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has been criticised after saying that British army veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles should be treated "the same" as IRA terrorists.

The Foreign Secretary, who is competing with Boris Johnson to be the next Prime Minister, made the comments during a digital hustings on Wednesday night.

He said: "The main thing and I want to be honest about this, you know, the peace in Northern Ireland was hard won and under the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, there is a need to treat both sides in the same way, however angry we may have felt about what happened."

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Belfast Telegraph he would be "happy to meet with Mr Hunt" to discuss the matter.

"I think he needs a little more information about what exactly happened as a result of the agreement," he said.

"The reality is the IRA terrorists were given letters to enable them to return home from being on the run and evading justice.

"All of the terrorist organisations benefited from the early release of prisoners and there have been many other concessions made to terrorists. None of that has been sought nor replicated for members of the armed forces. Nor would we want them to be."

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DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson

The Lagan Valley MP said the idea that there has been equal treatment of former soldiers and terrorists is a "nonsense".

"What the people of Northern Ireland have had to put up with is watch the terrorists, who were responsible for so much murder and mayhem, being given an easy ride and few of them being brought before the courts," he said.

"Whereas the focus of much of the legacy work has been on the army and the police.

"That isn't equal and that is the problem with the current system and the sooner Jeremy Hunt acquaints himself with that reality, perhaps the sooner he will revise his position."

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, a former soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, called on Mr Hunt to clarify his remarks.

“As far as the Ulster Unionist Party is concerned there is no equivalence between the Security forces – the lawful forces of the State - and the terrorists they were trying to thwart, any more than there is equivalence between a police force and the muggers, burglars and rapists they are trying to catch," Mr Beattie said.

The problem we currently face is that terrorists have been given letters of comfort and Royal Pardons whilst retired service personnel are being brought in front of the courts. Doug Beattie MLA

“The law must be applied equally and fairly and that has patently not been the case.”

Sinn Fein has been approached for comment.

Mr Hunt's comments come after Theresa May was widely criticised for issuing instructions that a consultation document on dealing with the legacy of the conflict should not contain references to "amnesties" or a "statute of limitations".

It went on to say that military veterans should be offered "equal, rather than preferential, treatment" relative to other groups covered by the consultation, which included terrorists.

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