Legacy issues ‘unbalanced’ says May in letter to veterans

Theresa May's letter said the 'UK government is concerned that the whole system of addressing the past in Northern Ireland is unbalanced'
Theresa May's letter said the 'UK government is concerned that the whole system of addressing the past in Northern Ireland is unbalanced'

Prime Minister Theresa May has described the “whole system of addressing the past in Northern Ireland” as “unbalanced” in a signed letter addressing legacy investigations here.

In her letter to a group of Northern Ireland veterans, Mrs May pays tribute to former servicemen who “paid with their lives to make sure that democracy would defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland”.

The letter was highlighted on Tuesday morning on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show. It was discussed by Spotlight reporter Mandy McAuley, who had outlined veterans’ concerns about legacy investigations in a recent TV programme.

The Spotlight reporter said the letter had been sent to “a group of Northern Ireland veterans” who are “calling for a statute of limitations in relation to deaths and killings carried out by the British Army in Northern Ireland prior to 1998, where they believe there has already been a thorough police investigation”.

She said the letter sent by Mrs May in response to the veterans’ concerns was “very carefully written”.

A campaign group known as ‘Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans’ has staged a series of demonstrations, both here in Northern Ireland and in London, where they delivered a letter outlining their concerns to Downing Street.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has previously expressed the view that legacy investigations here are “not working” because of an apparent “imbalance” that has led to a “disproportionate” focus on criminal inquiries involving former soldiers.

Mr Brokenshire said: “I am clear the current system is not working and we are in danger of seeing the past rewritten.”

Now, Mrs May has outlined a similar view in her signed letter, which has been seen by the News Letter.

She writes: “Policing and justice in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, which oversees and funds the police, prosecutors and courts in Northern Ireland, rather than the UK government.

“It is also the case that the police and prosecution services always take their operational decisions independently of the Executive.

“However, the UK government is concerned that the whole system of addressing the past in Northern Ireland is unbalanced and is not working well in anyone’s interests.

“That is why we agreed with the Northern Ireland political parties, in the Stormont House Agreement in 2014, to establish new institutions that would investigate the past in a way that is fair and proportionate.

“The overwhelming majority of deaths caused by soldiers and police officers will have been lawful and it is essential that investigations into the past do not unfairly treat soldiers and police officers.”

The prime minister continues: “Establishing these new institutions will ensure that the focus of investigations will be much more on the hundreds of unsolved murders committed by terrorists, including many unsolved murders of soldiers and police officers.”