Legacy scandal: Ministers step in to protect soldiers from republican ‘witch hunt’

Danny Kinahan MP, an ex Army Officer, has been campaigning to ensure that legacy investigations do not become a witch hunt against security forces
Danny Kinahan MP, an ex Army Officer, has been campaigning to ensure that legacy investigations do not become a witch hunt against security forces

The government has not denied reports that it is planning to legislate to protect soldiers from bearing the brunt of legal scrutiny for the Troubles.

It was reported at the weekend that ministers in London were working on forcing the authorities to treat legacy cases with “proportionality”.

According to the reports, the government is working on proposals that include an upper age limit on people who could be investigated, a time limit on how long an inquiry could last and maximum sentences for anyone found guilty.

The Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan has warmly welcomed the claims, which have been published in the Daily Mail and The Sun, and said that they must apply to the whole of the UK.

It is reported that a Bill will stipulate that 90% of Troubles killings were by terrorists, and that is how legacy police funds should be allocated.

Ministers are also said to want rules on legacy inquests, including allowing soldiers to give evidence by written statement.

The News Letter asked the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in London, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) about the reports. The MoJ pointed us to the MoD and the NIO.

An MoD spokesman said: “The overwhelming majority of those who served in Northern Ireland did so with great bravery and distinction. Any member of the military affected by this process will rightly be supported throughout and will receive free MoD legal representation.”

The NIO said it had nothing to add to the MoD statement.

The reports said a five-year limit on investigations would begin from the time veterans get a letter asking about incidents. Soldiers who reach a certain age — not specified — will gain immunity. The reports do not say RUC officers will be included in any laws.

The Daily Mail quoted what it described as a senior Whitehall source saying: “They’ve been pushing hard on this. Make no mistake we do not want another Ihat. We will not allow Northern Ireland to become another Ihat (Iraq Historic Allegations Team).”

South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan told the News Letter: “I welcome wholeheartedly any plans at Westminster to remove the possibility of attempts by those with a very singular agenda, to cynically rewrite history in relation to the Troubles.”

The UUP MP, an ex army officer, added: “It is essential that the government shows the grit and determination necessary to ensure that such legislation is enforced in all parts of the United Kingdom.

“Over recent months I have highlighted concerns through meetings, questions and debates whenever I could, to press for an end to this ‘witch-hunt’ that has seen servicemen who defended Northern Ireland against some of the most horrific violence we have ever experienced.

“These servicemen now in their 60s and 70s, are being arrested, questioned and held with no indication of the existence of any new evidence.”

Mr Kinahan added: “It is a fact that 90 per cent of Troubles related deaths were at the hands of terrorist groups, yet the focus of investigations is disproportionately on the 10 per cent of deaths at the hands of state forces.

“Early last year I wrote to every MP and member of the House of Lords, highlighting my concerns. I received a large number of responses voicing shock at the treatment of servicemen and women who risked their lives during a very dark and challenging time in our history.

“I have also held numerous meetings with the Secretary of State, MoD Ministers, Northern Ireland Ministers and even the Prime Minister, to make them aware of the outrage felt at these actions, both within the military family and the wider public.

“I wanted to ensure that everyone in Parliament was aware of this appalling trend and the drip, drip, drip of negative and often inaccurate publicity that sought to blacken the security services, when the reality was that so many brave people gave their lives, limbs and minds in tackling the vilest terrorism imaginable.”

Morning View: Legacy protection for security forces must extend to RUC officers