Gavin Robinson: There must be no question of an amnesty being offered
This week in Parliament I participated in the debate on the Overseas Operations Bill.
That Bill does not offer immunity from the law to our armed forces who have served overseas, but does provide protection from vexatious prosecutions.
The men and women who served so bravely here in Northern Ireland throughout the troubles operated in a different legal context to those overseas. However, they were promised and deserve equivalent levels of protection. The resignation of Johnny Mercer as Veterans Minister has placed a renewed focus on that commitment from the Government, and specifically from the Prime Minister to protect veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
Those commitments were not just made by the Prime Minister during his leadership bid, but in the 2019 Conservative manifesto and by Mr Mercer himself, including to me from the dispatch box in the House of Commons. The Government’s statement following Mr Mercer’s resignation that proposals will be brought forward still remains to be proven. However, attention will now turn to the Queen’s Speech on 11th May.
Whilst we await to see the detail of any proposals which might come forward they must be judged against a number of key tests.
It is an absolutely vital principle that access to justice remains open. There must be no question of any kind of amnesty being offered. Where anyone has committed murder for example, the law does and must, apply equally. The DUP will not support any proposal which steps outside this principle and it would go against the views of the vast majority of victims who participated in the consultation around the way forward on legacy issues.
There is a huge difference however between those who set out to bring murder and mayhem to our streets and those who were asked by our Government to step forward and protect our society from that violence. That is why anyone who suggests there should not be a distinction between the actions of armed forces and the actions of terrorists, is wrong.
Where there has been a death as a result of an act of the state that must be investigated and since 1974 those have been carried out in line with the law. The DUP believes that protection should be offered to veterans, but it can only be engaged where the state has discharged that duty. To date however we have seen veterans face re-investigation despite that having taken place properly in the past and no new evidence having been brought forward.
We can compare that to scores of terrorist incidents which have had no investigation and the ‘protection’ offered to terrorists through ‘On The Run’ letters, Royal Pardons and the clearly differential approach taken to those who perpetrated violence and those who tried to bring it to an end.
Those who served our country deserve legislative protection against dawn raids on their homes and continual cycles of investigation when they have been previously investigated and no new or compelling evidence has come forward. That is something the Government has promised and is something we want to see delivered upon.
Gavin Robinson is MP for East Belfast