Queen’s Speech: Unionists give veterans pledge a cautious welcome

A government commitment to protect military veterans from “vexatious” prosecutions has been given a guarded welcome by unionist politicians.

Military veterans on parade in Lisburn earlier this year. Pic: Norman Briggs rnbphotographyni
Military veterans on parade in Lisburn earlier this year. Pic: Norman Briggs rnbphotographyni

Following the Queen’s Speech on Thursday – in which the government set out its legislative programme – DUP and Ulster Unionist representatives said the details of the plans would have to be studied closely before full support could be offered.

The programme includes a total of 25 bills covering a range of issues, including Brexit, the NHS and immigration as well as military veterans.

On defence, the government said plans will be brought forward to tackle “vexatious claims that undermine our armed forces”.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson responded to the proposals, saying they should be investigated through “rational and constructive” engagement.

Mr Robinson, who served on the Defence Select Committee during the last Parliament, said: “The government has previously talked about protections for members of our armed forces and this commitment in the Queen’s Speech is to be welcomed. 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.”

Mr Robinson added: “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.

“Both in the talks and in the investigation of the proposals to be brought forward by the government what is needed is calm, rational and constructive engagement rather than knee-jerk reactions to grab a headline.”

Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionists said the debate around prosecutions was of “crucial importance to veterans”.

The UUP’s justice spokesperson said: “Further information and clarity is needed, not least with regard to the line ‘we will seek the prompt implementation of the Stormont House Agreement in order to provide both reconciliation for victims and greater certainty for military veterans.’

“Firstly, the Stormont House Agreement legacy arrangements do not enjoy the support of the Ulster Unionist Party, particularly with regard to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit, a parallel police force which would target former members of the security forces and which would be a disaster if it were ever to be introduced.

“Secondly, I am also very interested in the line ‘in parallel with the Stormont House Agreement institutions we will tackle the inappropriate application of the Human Rights Act to issues that occurred before it came into force’.

“Throughout the debate on legacy the Ulster Unionist Party has always been keen to ensure that the rule of law should be applied fairly and equally to all, and to avoid any legal action – however well-intentioned – that would open the door to a general amnesty which would apply to terrorists.”

Mr Beattie added: “I look forward to the government providing more detail on its plans and in particular how it proposes to proceed in a manner which respects the rule of law, protects veterans from vexatious claims and which does not provide an amnesty to terrorists.”