Posted on July 8, 2019
About 17,500 members of the public took part in the consultation which took place last year. Senior Government figures and backbenchers at Westminster backed a so-called statute of limitations which would prevent military veterans from being prosecuted.
No specific question was asked on the proposal for a statute of limitations but in a published summary of consultation, many of the respondents gave their views: “The clear majority of all respondents to the consultation argued that a statute of limitations or amnesty would not be appropriate for Troubles-related matters. Many were clear that victims, survivors and families are entitled to pursue criminal justice outcomes and such a move could risk progress towards reconciliation. There was a strong sense that the new mechanisms must be fair and not favour any particular group.”
The consultation canvassed views on a series of new processes to investigate, document and uncover the truth around thousands of killings during the 30-year conflict. These included a new independent investigation unit and a truth recovery body, which were agreed by the Stormont parties and UK and Irish governments in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement. But their implementation has been delayed due to the powersharing deadlock in Northern Ireland.
The Government has not indicated whether it will now move to establish the mechanisms, after an apparent reluctance to push ahead with legislation in the absence of a functioning devolved executive in Belfast. It is understood officials will now consult with the Stormont parties to gauge their views on the way ahead in light of the consultation outcome. The issue of amnesty for veterans has become highly controversial in recent years, partly due to a number of prosecutions against former military personnel.
While the Government is proposing a form of legal protection for veterans involved in overseas conflicts, it currently has no plans to extend such a policy in Northern Ireland. A number of Conservative MPs were angered last year by the Government’s decision not to include the proposal in the consultation.
The Northern Ireland Office acknowledged that some respondents did favour “drawing a line” under the past, arguing that security force members should be afforded protections, given concessions handed to paramilitaries during the peace process, such as the early release scheme and letters of comfort.
The summary document highlighted that some veterans groups also argued against an amnesty. “They felt those they represented would have no difficulty in answering for their actions and would wish to see terrorist organisations and their members being held accountable. In addition, they felt that granting blanket immunity from prosecution could create a misleading impression of moral equivalence between security forces and terrorists.”