Belfast Telegraph

Victims' campaigners fear Johnson soldier amnesty pledge will give terrorists immunity

Kenny Donaldson
Kenny Donaldson
Serena Hamilton
Dave Hardy
Kate Nash
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

Families of those killed by the IRA and the Army - as well as soldiers who served during the Troubles - have hit out at plans by Boris Johnson to grant an amnesty to military veterans that could also give the same immunity to terrorists.

The Prime Minister outlined his intention to "tackle vexatious claims that undermine our armed forces" in the Queen's Speech. It also sought "better ways to deal with legacy issues that provide better outcome for victims and survivors".

Kenny Donaldson of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, which supports innocent victims of the Troubles, said veterans previously investigated and found not guilty shouldn't be prosecuted, but others who have committed crimes should not be immune.

Mr Donaldson said: "Where military veterans have been investigated and found to be innocent of alleged crimes there must cease to be a means to prosecute them, we are absolutely clear on this.

"However we are also clear that any member of the military or wider security forces who carried out an act of premeditated criminality cannot and should not be immune from prosecution.

"Because that is the outcome of providing a statute of limitation or de facto amnesty, the perpetrators of terrorism related crimes would also receive it."

Serena Hamilton, whose father David Graham served in the UDR and died 10 days after he was shot by the IRA in Cookstown in 1977, also fears an amnesty will give immunity to terrorists - including the men who murdered her father.

She said: "No one has ever been prosecuted for my father's murder even though we have a good idea who was responsible. That man is still free, walking around and for all we know could have an 'on-the-run' letter.

"I was told from I was a young age that no stone would be left unturned until my father's murderers were found but that never happened. I have no doubt because of legislation that protects terrorists that no one will ever be prosecuted.

"I don't feel there should be an amnesty for anybody because the vast majority of soldiers served their country and kept people safe. While we can talk about the small percentage that did become perpetrators themselves, on reflection there were far more UDR, police and Army who served to protect everybody and did the job for the right reason."

Kate Nash, whose brother William was shot dead and whose father was wounded on Bloody Sunday, said any move to grant an amnesty to soldiers will be challenged.

Ms Nash added: "What Boris Johnson is seeking to do is to grant protection to criminals because regardless of whether or not you wear a uniform, if you break the law, you should face the full rigours of it.

"The soldiers who killed 14 people in Derry on Bloody Sunday, including my brother, and who wounded many more, including my father, killed and wounded innocent, unarmed men and the only way to deal with this legacy is to prosecute those soldiers."

Former soldier Dave Hardy was on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland when he was among the victims of an IRA bus bomb in Ballygawley that claimed the lives of eight troops in 1988.

He said: "I do not believe that in circumstance where civilians got caught in crossfire, where soldiers were being shot at and were returning fire, that there should be prosecutions.

"If there was a situation where a soldier lost the plot, was walking down the street, cocked his weapon and opened fire on an innocent civilian then they should be done (prosecuted) or at least locked up in a mental institution."

He said if terrorists "can get away with it then the British soldiers can get away with it - it has to be equal on both sides".

The proposals will be debated in the House of Commons but two local MPs are at loggerheads.

SDLP MP Colum Eastwood said the proposal was an insult to victims and survivors of soldiers who committed "grievous wrongs and heinous crimes in Northern Ireland".

In his maiden speech in the House of Commons, Mr Eastwood claimed that alongside Mr Johnson's Brexit deal, such a policy threatens peace in Northern Ireland.

He said: "Equally damaging to our progress and our peace process is the current proposal to basically give an amnesty for British soldiers for... whatever they carried out in Northern Ireland during our very difficult Troubles."

He added: "Is prosecuting those veterans vexatious? No, it is not.

"We will resist this attempt to undermine our peace process and our political progress and this insult to victims, all of the victims of our terrible past, and the opportunity that has been denied to them since 1998 to find full truth and full justice.

"We stand by every single one of those victims, no matter who the perpetrator was.

"People on opposite benches need to understand this.

"If you begin with an amnesty for the British Army you will end up with an amnesty for everybody."

However, East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson welcomed the move.

He said the detail of the proposal needs to be examined but knee-jerk reactions should be avoided.

He said: "There is an obvious need to see the details of exactly what will be brought forward.

"Whatever is brought forward must apply across the United Kingdom as a whole. There is no difference made between soldiers who are serving depending on where they come from and, like the Armed Forces Covenant, there should be no difference in the implementation of such legislation across the UK.

"There have been some who have attempted to suggest these proposals will impact upon the talks to restore devolution in Northern Ireland.

"Such hyperbole is unnecessary and unhelpful."

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