Irish Government voices concern at ‘loose comments’ on prosecution of veterans

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The Irish Government has expressed concern about “loose comments” following UK Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s intervention on protecting veterans.

She wants to end the “chilling” threat of “repeated” investigations of troops who served in Northern Ireland.

Ireland’s deputy premier Simon Coveney told the Dail parliament it is a sensitive time to be discussing legacy in the region, as he reiterated his opposition to any amnesty from prosecution.

He said: “We need to ensure that loose comments that are made are not damaging in terms of trust and the willingness of all sides to co-operate to make sure that the legacy structures committed to and agreed by both governments, supported by all political parties, move forward in the spirit that they were intended.”

An announcement by the British Government on measures to address the legacy of unresolved killings in Northern Ireland was not made this week despite reports it was imminent.

Significant numbers of families are seeking answers or justice.

Many are suffering financial, psychological or physical consequences following the violence.

The issue could form part of ongoing Stormont talks aimed at restoring devolved powersharing.

Mr Coveney said he expects the British Government to uphold its previous assurances that stronger legal protections against prosecution of soldiers and veterans would apply only to overseas service.

Northern Ireland power sharing
An announcement by Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley on measures to address the legacy of unresolved killings in Northern Ireland was said to be imminent (Liam McBurney/PA)

“That is what is provided for in the legacy framework of the Stormont House Agreement and it is imperative that we move forward.”

He said no provision had been made in earlier political agreements on Northern Ireland for amnesties from prosecution.

Mr Coveney added the Irish Government would not support the introduction of such measures for alleged state or non-state perpetrators.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley wrote to him on April 18 saying that where there is evidence of wrongdoing, members of the British Army should be prosecuted, he said.

He recalled Prime Minister Theresa May indicating that measures providing protection only applied to those who served overseas, not Northern Ireland.

Mr Coveney said: “The Government expects those assurances to be upheld.”

Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the 30-year conflict face prosecution.

  • Over the killings of two people on Bloody Sunday during a civil rights march in Londonderry in January 1972.
  • The death of John Pat Cunningham, 27, who had learning difficulties and was shot in the back as he ran away from an Army patrol near Benburb, County Tyrone, in 1974.
  • The death of Aidan McAnespie, 23, who was hit by one of three bullets fired from a machine gun in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, as he walked through a checkpoint.
  • The death of Official IRA man Joe McCann, who was shot in disputed circumstances in Belfast in April 1972.
  • The death of Daniel Hegarty, 15, who was shot twice in the head in Londonderry in 1972.

Their cases surround the killings of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972, plus separate incidents involving the deaths of John Pat Cunningham, Aidan McAnespie, Joe McCann and Daniel Hegarty.

Not all charges involve murder.

A public consultation by the British Government on proposals contained within the 2014 Stormont House Agreement did not include a statute of limitations, or amnesty, for Troubles killings.

Some veterans and MPs have campaigned strongly for the legal assurance, while many victims in Northern Ireland are adamantly opposed to the concession.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said: “The comments made by the British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt undermine the legacy mechanisms agreed by the two governments and five main parties at Stormont House.”

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