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UUP hails minister for saying former soldiers should not face future probes

Ex-military man: Ben Wallace
Ex-military man: Ben Wallace
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The Ulster Unionists have welcomed the announcement by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace that veterans who served in Northern Ireland shouldn't face future probes unless new evidence is uncovered.

Ben Wallace, who served has a Scots Guard, said former soldiers in their 70s and 80s should be enjoying their retirement rather than suffering the "trauma" of investigators knocking on the door.

He told the Daily Mail that soldiers and police in Northern Ireland had defeated one of the most "potent terrorist groups" in the world and that should not be forgotten.

Veterans should be "proud" and "celebrating" their role in defending freedom against the "bad guys", he added.

UUP leader Robin Swann said: "It is clear that Ben Wallace's experience as a young officer serving here in the early 1990s has given him a real understanding of the situation that existed and the role played by the military and the RUC in thwarting the terrorist campaign which threatened to plunge us into civil war.

"Mistakes were inevitably made by the Army and police but we must never lose sight of the fact that 90% of deaths were due to the actions of terrorists and all these were unlawful.

"I particularly welcome his commitment not to allow history to be rewritten. The UUP agrees that veterans of Op Banner should be incredibly proud they defeated the terrorists that the operation was successful, and it should be commemorated. We thank them for their service."

But SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said: "This suggestion by successive British ministers that the rule of law in Northern Ireland is dysfunctional because soldiers who committed crimes are pursued without fear or favour is grossly offensive to policing, to our prosecution service and to our courts.

"So, let's be very clear for Ben Wallace: those members of the security forces who committed crimes while in Northern Ireland should not be enjoying their retirement, they should be prepared to face justice for their actions.

"Where there is evidence, previously recovered or newly discovered, of criminal wrongdoing, it will be pursued to its investigative and criminal justice conclusion."

Mrs Kelly added: "The British Defence Secretary should heed the advice of his former party leader when he said: 'You do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible'.

"We will robustly resist any proposals which resemble an amnesty or which will deny victims truth, justice and accountability."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson said: "This is a further disappointing statement from a UK minister that further compounds a misleading narrative of how legacy issues are being handled at present.

"Ministers should be stressing the importance of adhering to the rule of law and due process - no more and no less.

"There is no need for any new tests with regard to veterans. All investigations should be taken forward or reopened solely on evidence and the merits of the case."

TUV leader Jim Allister welcomed Mr Wallace's remarks, but added: "They do not address the core issue, which is the lopsided nature of the legacy arrangements which have been agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein and look like they will shortly make their way into law."

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