Donaldson calls for limit on prosecutions against police and army

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the Commons moving a motion for a statute of limitations to protect members of the security forces 23 February 2017. Screengrab from Parliament TV.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the Commons moving a motion for a statute of limitations to protect members of the security forces 23 February 2017. Screengrab from Parliament TV.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has welcomed a decision to close down historical investigations of soldiers in Iraq - and has called for processes which will ensure those who served in Northern Ireland and elsewhere are “balanced and fair”.

Moving a motion in the House of Commons today, the MP stated that terrorists were responsible for some 90% of deaths in Northern Ireland and the state forces on both sides of the border for 10% - which were almost always lawful.

He stated that terrorists had been treated very leniently since the Good Friday Agreement - which granted them early release - and pointed to hundreds of wanted terrorists who were given “letters of comfort” to assure them they were no longer being sought by police.

However by contrast, members of the security forces who fought to uphold law and order during the Troubles are still being sought for prosecution, he said, with three elderly English soldiers having been charged with historic offences.

“Today, the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch devotes a wholly disproportionate level of its resources to the investigation of killings linked to the security forces and hopelessly inadequate resources to the thousands of unsolved terrorist murders,” he said.

He added: “Add to this the fact that legacy inquests and investigations by the office of the Police Ombudsman are laying bare the modus operandi of the counter-terrorism operations by the Army and Police that brought the terrorists to their knees and helped secure the relative degree of peace that we enjoy today.

“None of us can fully know the implications this could have for future counter-terrorism operations and for our national security. However, we can be sure of this - putting soldiers and police officers in the dock whilst the terrorists walk free is an expediency that will cost us dear in years to come.

“This has been realised rather belatedly with the welcome decision to close down the Iraq Historical Allegations Team. But consider the damage done to the morale of our armed forces and the consequences with a marked downturn in recruitment and retention. Whilst so-called human rights lawyers get rich with the lucrative returns such cases can bring, mainly from the public purse, the men and women in the front line defending our country find it hard to avoid a sense of betrayal. All right thinking people should rail against this.”

The MP said it was time for the Government to protect the men and women who served our country.

“We believe that the Government must give urgent consideration to introducing a ‘Statute of Limitations’ for soldiers and police officers who face the prospect of prosecution in cases which, in terms of Northern Ireland, occurred before 1998 and have previously been the subject of full Police investigations.

“Similar measures should also be introduced for other military deployments such as those in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan, with an appropriate timescale in each case for a statute of limitations.

“This is not an amnesty as each case will previously have been the subject of a thorough investigation - it is an appropriate and necessary measure to protect the men and women of our armed forces from the kind of ‘witch hunts’ that years after their retirement have left many feeling that their service to this country is neither respected or valued.”

Mr Donaldson said the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) institutions designed to deal with the Troubles have not yet been implemented due to an impasse between the Government and Sinn Fein over national security. He affirmed that the Government is right to hold the line on this issue.

And he called on the Secretary of State to publish for consultation draft legislation to establish the SHA’s new Historical Investigations Unit, which would take over from the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch.