Baroness Hoey: Protection for veterans should apply to those who served in Northern Ireland
In the Lords yesterday Baroness Hoey moved an amendment to the Overseas Operations Bill seeking equivalent protection for veterans who served in Northern Ireland from 1969. Her speech is below:
I wish to propose amendment number 18 which is in my name, and that of the noble lord, Lord Lexden.
The amendment to Clause 15, quite simply, puts into legislation the promise, made by the government that the same protections — in relation to prosecutions of overseas operations’ veterans — will apply to those who served in Northern Ireland.
That is to the 300,000 service personnel involved in Operation Banner from 1969.
The amendment requires the government to report on progress to that end, before the necessary commencing regulations under subsection (2) are made.
I hope that the progress will be early rather than late although I recognise this will require courage within government — the same courage displayed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Johnny Mercer MP, who took this Bill through its committee stage, in the other place.
When I spoke on second reading, I explained that “the army and police stopped a civil war from breaking out in Northern Ireland, for which they get few thanks, just vexation prosecutions and unending re-investigations due in large part to over-interpretation of, ironically, the ‘right to life’ in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). “They paid a colossal price in blood—some 700 murdered soldiers, including the UDR, and some 300 RUC…The equivalent number of police officers killed on a UK-wide basis would be 10,000. That says it all.”
In reality, this bill is very limited in its provisions. Re-investigations will not be ended but hopefully curtailed.
It does not constitute an amnesty although since the Belfast Agreement we have already had many elements of one, including the early release of all paramilitary prisoners, and letters of comfort for IRA members ‘On The Run’.
Now the only matters investigated and coming to prosecution are those involving army veterans, some half a dozen of whom are awaiting trial — in relation to events 50 years ago.
And that process has taken a very long time.
• See News Letter editorial below
Much of the investigation evidence appears based on files in The National Archives at Kew where Troubles archaeology proceeds apace.
The IRA, of course, left no paperwork to be excavated.
The bill before us carries permission in Clause 1 for prosecutors to consider, “whether or not any proceedings against a person for a relevant offence should be continued”.
This is a key provision that must be extended to Northern Ireland, and might enable the persecution to cease.
Our amendment, number 18, is grouped amidst 17 others, all from the noble lady, the Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick.
Those seventeen amendments are a pre-emptive strike against extension of the Bill to Northern Ireland which is what my amendment will advance.
In the member’s Explanatory Statement, she states that the Bill is incompatible with “the provisions of the Belfast Agreement that require incorporation of the ECHR into Northern Irish law”.
Baroness Ritchie however misinterprets the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
It, of course, said nothing about the prosecution, or non-prosecution, of members of the security forces.
Yes — the UK government did undertake to incorporate the ECHR into British law —which it duly did in November that same year, when the Human Rights Act received Royal Assent.
That Act remains in force throughout the UK.
My Lords, I therefore oppose those 17 amendments and seek instead your support for my alternative proposal to provide equal treatment to all our veterans.
Their representative organisations, I know, are eagerly awaiting the government’s promise being put into law.
• Baroness Hoey is a cross-bench peer who was born in Northern Ireland and was Labour MP for Vauxhall for 30 years from 1989 to 2019. Her amendment to the government’s Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill was moved yesterday at the bill’s final report stage. Baroness Hoey’s proposal required the government to report on progress on inclusion of service here from 1969 before it commenced the act
• News Letter editorial: Kate Hoey’s bid to protect NI veterans would resolve part of the legacy imbalance
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