| 21 May 2024, Tuesday |

Ireland slams British plan to give amnesty to veterans accused of Troubles crimes

The Irish government has called on London to refrain from giving amnesty to former British soldiers accused of committing crimes during a 30-year sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

The plea was made on Thursday after the UK government announced plans for granting immunity from prosecution to ex-soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during Troubles ­— three decades of confrontation between Irish nationalist militants, pro-British “loyalist” paramilitaries and British military that claimed around 3,600 lives.

According to reports in the Times and Daily Telegraph, London is set to introduce next week a statute of limitations to stop the British army veterans from being charged over incidents before the 1998 Belfast Agreement that ended the three-decade sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Should the move proceed as reported, it would be a violation of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement involving the Northern parties and the Irish and British governments, under which all sides settled for setting up a £150 million independent unit to investigate the entire deaths during the Troubles from the late 1960s to the late 1990s.

Victims of the Troubles are vehemently opposed to any statute of limitations, which they characterized as an amnesty that would thwart their chances of justice.

“Reports that British government is to legislate for an amnesty for their state forces is another slap in the face to victims,” Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said in a tweet on Thursday.

“Another cynical move that will put British forces beyond the law. This is legal protection for those involved in state murder. This is not acceptable,” she added.

A spokesman for Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, “The Irish Government discussed with our UK colleagues the commitments of the Stormont House Agreement and strongly advised against any unilateral action on such sensitive issues.”

“We reiterated that only through a collective approach can we deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly in a way that responds to the needs of victims, survivors and society as a whole. Victims and their families are the only priority,” he added.

The minister also said on Twitter that he had “met many victims of the Troubles & their families,” and witnessed the “ongoing heartbreak & pain whenever legacy is in news. Moreover, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said ministers were “deeply alarmed” by the British media reports and would not support such a move.

“The Government and myself personally were deeply alarmed by reports that we read about the possibility that the British Government may consider providing an amnesty, or putting in place a statute of limitations, in relation to offenses that occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland,” Varadkar said.

“This would fly in the face of the Stormont House agreement…It is something that we will not support as a government because we stand with the victims and families who’ve been bereaved and damaged as a consequence of these actions,” he added.

They have a right to know what happened, and they have a right to justice. Whether the murderers were British soldiers or republicans or loyalists, they should be brought to justice.”

Allegations over unresolved crimes from Northern Ireland’s Troubles remain a contentious issue 23 years after a peace deal was struck.

A ban on prosecutions could add to tensions in the British-run region, where young pro-British loyalists have rioted in recent weeks, partly over post-Brexit trade barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.

A murder trial of two ex-British soldiers accused of fatally shooting an Irish Republican Army commander collapsed this week and the two were formally acquitted after prosecutors offered no further evidence at their trial.

It was the first trial in several years that involved charges against former military personnel who served during the Troubles.

The development comes as Britain is also facing Scotland’s sixth parliamentary election, a vote that could crucially chart the county’s path to a second independence referendum.