Tory veterans prosecution pledge condemned in Belfast and Dublin

The Conservative pledge to change the law to protect army veterans from legal action has drawn widespread criticism in Northern Ireland.

The leaders of both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Ulster Party condemned the move and there was a warning it could create a “moral equivalence between veterans and the terrorist”.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald said it was outrageous that anybody, Tory or otherwise, would propose to create further hardship and frustration for families seeking justice.

Under the proposals, a Tory government would amend the Human Rights Act so it does not apply to events that took place before it came into force in 2000 – including deaths during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The pledge has attracted criticism in Northern Ireland and Dublin, with Ulster Unionist assembly member Doug Beattie, a retired Army captain, claiming it risked creating “a moral equivalence between veterans and the terrorist”.

DUP leader Arlene Foster echoed that concern.

“What we want to see is vexatious claims against veterans being dealt with, we do of course, and we have supported that right throughout the process.

“But we cannot have a situation where anybody who has committed a heinous crime is actually just swept aside in an effective amnesty and we will not support that in Parliament.”

Ms McDonald, speaking at the launch of Sinn Fein’s General Election campaign in Belfast on Monday, said: “We see here again Tory kite-flying and game-playing in a way that is reckless and frankly disgraceful.”

Ms McDonald said: “Those families who wish to pursue justice should face no impediment, that the truth must out, that the British state record here of mayhem and violence and state collusion, that that story will be told even as that same establishment tries to frustrate the efforts of families – many of whom for half a century have sought simply the truth.”

Mark Thompson, brother of a man shot dead by the British Army in 1990 in Belfast, dismissed the proposal.

He said: “It is hurtful for families that in their homes hear the danger of soldiers being presented as victims when they have buried their own loved ones without any recourse or redress or any form of accountability.”

He added: “It is all rhetoric, misinformation and a bit of propaganda.”

The Irish Government also expressed concern.

Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney tweeted: “There is no statute of limitations, no amnesty for anyone who committed crimes in Northern Ireland.

“The law must apply to all, without exception, to achieve reconciliation.”

Mr Beattie said: “It will set a case law precedent which will apply to the terrorist as well.

“So the terrorist will use that as his defence in order to get off with any of the crimes that he did.

“That will create a moral equivalence between veterans and the terrorist, which I cannot support in any shape or form.”