Concerns at plans to consult on forces’ Troubles ‘amnesty’

Former soldier Dennis Hutchings appearing at Armagh courts in March. He has been charged with the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham,  who was shot dead by members of an army patrol in Benburb in 1974. His case was one of several that prompted proposals for a statute of limitations on such prosecutions. 
Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Former soldier Dennis Hutchings appearing at Armagh courts in March. He has been charged with the attempted murder of John-Pat Cunningham, who was shot dead by members of an army patrol in Benburb in 1974. His case was one of several that prompted proposals for a statute of limitations on such prosecutions. Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Concerns have been raised that a proposed government consultation on an ‘amnesty’ for security force members who served during the Troubles could also be applied to terrorists.

Gerry Adams emerged from a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday to express consternation about a proposed “amnesty for British crown forces” allegedly involved in Troubles’ offences.

He claimed there had been a change to legacy arrangements envisaged under the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).

It contains a range of proposals and bodies to deal with the legacy of the Troubles, which Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said he intends to publicly consult on.

After talks with Mrs May in Downing Street, Mr Adams said plans to consult on a statute of limitations for the security forces had been added to the SHA consultation plans.

“That is an act of bad faith, we weren’t told this, we understand the Irish government weren’t told this,” he said.

“So how on earth can a British prime minister hope to persuade anybody that there’s a possibility of a new dispensation emerging when she takes up this position and her secretary of state takes up this position also?”

The government did not specifically confirm yesterday that it intends to proceed with consultation on the measure, however in April the Westminster Defence Committee recommended the government “listen to all views” on the issue.

It stopped short of recommending that the measure should also cover terror offences, adding that this would be “for the next government to decide”.

On November 1 an Armed Forces Statute of Limitations Bill was presented to Parliament, sponsored by DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly and backed by Tory MPs. The move has had widespread, but not unanimous, support among armed forces veterans.

Three days later a parade took place in Belfast by the group Northern Ireland Crown Forces Veterans for Justice, which believes a statute would result in terrorists being afforded the same protection.

However, Alan Barry of another group, Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans, said he is strongly in favour of the statute.

“We do want a line in the sand drawn to put the past behind us,” he said. “But we are not saying that we have done anything wrong.”

Opposition to the proposal was also expressed yesterday by the UUP, Alliance, SDLP, Irish government, Innocent Victims United and Amnesty International.

A Northern Ireland Office spokeswoman said the secretary of state believes that the next phase is to consult publicly on the SHA proposals.

“The government believes that the Stormont House Agreement proposals represent the best means of addressing Northern Ireland’s past in ways that will be fair, balanced and proportionate,” she said.

“However, we acknowledge that others have different views on the best way forward, such as those proposed by the House of Commons Defence Committee, which do not involve recourse to the criminal justice system.”

In the spirit of open consultation it is right the government “listens to all views” she said. It will also engage with stakeholders in advance of the launch, she added.