Irish Deputy PM criticises Boris Johnson's veteran prosecution pledge

11 November 2019, 18:26 | Updated: 11 November 2019, 18:27

Simon Coveney has criticised Boris Johnson's pledge to protect Northern Ireland veterans from prosecutions
Simon Coveney has criticised Boris Johnson's pledge to protect Northern Ireland veterans from prosecutions. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Politcians in Northern Ireland and the Republic have criticised the Prime Minister for pledging a new law to protect veterans of the Troubles from prosecution.

The Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, speaking at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, said he was "worried" by Boris Johnson pledging a law change to protect armed forces veterans who served in Northern Ireland.

The Conservatives announced on Monday morning that it would prevent veterans facing "vexatious" legal action over historical allegations if they win the general election in December.

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said under the proposals, the Human Rights Act (HRA) "will be amended to specify that it doesn't apply to issues - including Northern Ireland - that took place before the Act came into force in October 2000".

Boris Johnson has pledged to change the Human Right Act to protect Northern Ireland veterans
Boris Johnson has pledged to change the Human Right Act to protect Northern Ireland veterans. Picture: PA Images

However, Mr Coveney claims the Irish government had not been told or consulted about the announcement, which would be in contravention of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement (SHA).

He told officials: "That is a worry, perhaps this is just a part of an election campaign.

"We have an agreement between both governments and the parties in Northern Ireland on how to progress, to manage very sensitive legacy issues, and to move a process of reconciliation forward.

"That was the Stormont House Agreement and within that agreement there's no amnesty for any one sector within Northern Ireland, or people who are involved in breaches of the law during the Troubles.

He added: "Of course, we've not seen any detail in any election manifestos on the issue yet, but from our perspective we have an agreed approach, it's in the Stormont House Agreement and I hope that's respected."

Labour, meanwhile, said it could not see a reason why the law needed amending but suggested it supported the motive behind the move.

Emily Thornberry said the Labour Party supports the proposals in principal
Emily Thornberry said the Labour Party supports the proposals in principal. Picture: PA Images

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said she supported the Tory plans but questioned the need to "change" the HRA

She told reporters: "Their main purpose is to stop vexatious and unfair actions - who could be against that?

"I don't think that, personally, you need to change the Human Rights Act about that."

In September hundreds of protesters, including veterans, stormed central London over the charging of 'Soldier F' with the murder of civil rights protesters in Derry in 1972.

Former Corporal Graham Tilley, 72, who served in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, said of Mr Johnson's pledge "will be brilliant" if the Prime Minister is able to carry it through.

Hundreds of people protested in London over the charging of 'Soldier F'
Hundreds of people protested in London over the charging of 'Soldier F'. Picture: PA Images

Asked about how Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn compares to Mr Johnson on military matters, Mr Tilley said: "All the ex-army personnel who have served in Northern Ireland - I know an awful lot of them - they just turn him off when he comes on the TV."

Human rights groups have also voiced their concern about the proposal, with Amnesty International saying the move would act against the principle that "no-one, including members of the Armed Forces, is above the law".

Amnesty's Northern Ireland Campaign Manager Grainne Teggart added: "Yet in preventing former soldiers from being prosecuted over killings and other abuses that took place during the Northern Ireland conflict, that is exactly where this would place them."

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