Johnny Mercer discusses help for veterans on BBC Breakfast
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The Prime Minister insisted introducing a statute of limitations was a balanced and measured way to allow the province to “draw a line” under the past. Victims and political parties in the region have attacked the plans, which will apply equally to veterans, ex-RUC officers and IRA terrorists, for being a “de facto amnesty”. Mr Johnson said that many terrorists were effectively given an amnesty that allowed them to “escape the full consequences of their crimes” in 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was struck.
He told MPs: “The sad fact remains that there are many members of the armed services who continue to face the threat of vexatious prosecutions well into their 70s, 80s and later, and we’re finally bringing forward a solution to this problem, to enable the province of Northern Ireland to draw a line under the Troubles, to enable the people of Northern Ireland to move forward.”
The ban on prosecutions is part of a wider package that includes a truth and reconciliation style body that would help families recover information about incidents involving their loved ones and an oral history project.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told the Commons: “We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept and this is not a position we take lightly.
“But we’ve come to the view that this is the best and only way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation.
“It is in reality a painful recognition of the very reality of where we are.”
Tory former leader Iain Duncan Smith, who served in Northern Ireland, told how a “good friend”, Captain Robert Nairac, was abducted and murdered in 1977.
He said the terms of the peace agreement meant many of the intelligence officer’s family and friends had “sadly” accepted they would never know the truth about what happened to him.
The Tory MP added: “This will not be beloved of anybody but I do recognise sincerely that if we are to move forward, we will all have to make some kind of sacrifice.
“My only concern is the vexatious pursuit of soldiers, who served like many of us did because that’s what their country called them to do, should end and they themselves be seen as victims.”
But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Government the move would be “rejected by everyone in Northern Ireland who stands for justice and the rule of law”.
He said: “Justice was corrupted in 1998 with the release of prisoners and then by Tony Blair’s on-the-run letters. Understandably many victims will feel that these proposals represent a further denial of the opportunity to secure justice for their loved ones.
“There can be no equivalence between the soldier and police officer who served their country and those cowardly terrorists who hid behind masks and terrorised under the cover of darkness. We find any such attempted equivalence as offensive.”
Irish premier Micheal Martin said the plans were “wrong for many, many reasons” and “is not the right way to go”.
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