The introduction of legislation to prevent the historic prosecution of Army veterans involved in killings during the Troubles would be welcomed by unionists.
Senior members of both the DUP and UUP voiced their support for a 10-year limit on legacy prosecutions – a proposal from the defence secretary revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Times.
It was reported that Gavin Williamson is expected to bring forward the proposed legislation after growing pressure on the government to address the legacy of the Troubles.
Sinn Fein has said any such plan would put British soldiers “above the law”.
Defence Secretary Mr Williamson has previously described cases against ex-servicemen as a “witch-hunt”.
The Sunday Times said the new measures would include:
• A statutory presumption against prosecution, which will mean there will be a presumption not to prosecute veterans if the alleged offence took place more than 10 years ago;
• Attorney general consent, which will require the Cabinet minister to give his approval in order for a prosecution to proceed;
• New advice from the attorney general, which will make clear the level of evidence required to bring forward a prosecution, as well as set a test for whether bringing forward the case is in the public interest.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We’ve been pressing for some time now for the MoD to provide additional protection for veterans, not only those who served in Northern Ireland but in other theatres as well such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We haven’t seen the specific details of this proposal but we will engage with the secretary of state for defence and we hope that any additional support or legal protection will include veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
“We’ll reserve judgment until we see the details of any proposal.”
Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan said: “I welcome the proposal but it needs to happen in a partnership between the Ministry of Defence, the UK attorney general and the Northern Ireland Office, to come up with something that works for everybody.
“I’m really keen that we find some way of limiting all these trials and at the same time we look after the victims so that it is fair, and not the witch-hunt that it’s looking like. For it to work we need everyone to come on board including Sinn Fein.”
Speaking on behalf of Sinn Fein, MLA Linda Dillon opposed the plan: “This proposal if implemented would effectively put British soldiers above the law. There can be no immunity or impunity for British forces.
“No one should be above the law, all victims and survivors should have the same access to processes of truth and justice.
“Those behind these proposals have clearly no regard for due process or for the victims of British state violence in Ireland, many of whom have waited almost five decades for truth and justice in the face of systemic cover-up.
“Instead of proposing new ways to thwart the victims in their pursuit of truth and justice the British government needs to end its stalling on implantation of the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House in 2014.”