United Kingdom

Target for legislation to shield Ulster veterans from prosecution is in doubt

A renewed Government pledge to introduce legislation protecting Northern Ireland soldiers within four weeks is unlikely to be fulfilled, senior sources have said.

Veterans groups and MPs warned the Government against making any more ‘broken promises’ – claiming ministers are now in the ‘last chance saloon’.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis yesterday told the Commons that the Government maintains its ‘ambition’ of bringing in laws to prevent the prosecution of soldiers during the Troubles before Parliament’s summer break next month – scheduled for July 22.

He first made the pledge to the Northern Ireland affairs committee in January and his office confirmed it last month following the collapse of the landmark trial of two elderly paratroopers accused of killing an IRA man in 1972.

But sources familiar with the discussions insist that the plans to introduce new laws – part of the 2019 Conservative manifesto – will be pushed back yet again because of difficulties in obtaining Irish approval and resistance from nationalists in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis  (pictured above) yesterday told the Commons that the Government maintains its ‘ambition’ of bringing in laws to prevent the prosecution of soldiers during the Troubles before Parliament’s summer break next month

Any such delay would anger Northern Ireland veterans, who were told by Boris Johnson following the election that legislation preventing vexatious claims against British troops without fresh evidence would be introduced within 100 days of government.

Asked during the second reading of the Northern Ireland Bill yesterday when the proposed legislation would be brought forward, Mr Lewis said: ‘I had an ambition to bring something before this House before the summer recess, I still have that ambition.’

But he added: ‘It is right we take the time to do that properly and methodically.’

At a meeting last week in Belfast, when veterans minister Leo Docherty, Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker and Veterans Commissioner for Northern Ireland Danny Kinahan were pressed on whether the legislation would be set out by the summer recess, Mr Walker instead said it would be enacted by the end of the ‘parliamentary session’. 

Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer (above, during a march on May 8) has accused the Government of repeatedly lying over its pledge to stop Troubles prosecutions

The current parliamentary session will run until at least May next year and potentially into 2023.

Former Ulster Unionist MP Mr Kinahan said: ‘With Mr Lewis reiterating this pledge… I think if this promise is broken then veterans will be absolutely furious. We can’t go on waiting. Now is the time to do it. I don’t want to see any more broken promises and I want to see veterans looked after.’

Paul Young, of Justice for Northern Ireland Veterans, added: ‘If the Government does not produce draft legislation, the veterans community will have no confidence in them and any trust will be lost and gone for ever. This is the last chance saloon to make good on those promises.’

Former veterans minister Johnny Mercer has accused the Government of repeatedly lying over its pledge to stop Troubles prosecutions.

Last night he said: ‘The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have missed seven of their own deadlines already… I hope he comes good on this one.’

The Daily Mail has campaigned for an end to legacy investigations against Troubles soldiers.

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