Protections sought for Northern Ireland veterans by Tory MPs

Tory MPs have called on the Government to ensure that Northern Ireland veterans are not subjected to “vexatious claims” for their service during The Troubles.

On Wednesday, during PMQs, Boris Johnson said that following the restoration of powersharing at Stormont he will make sure no-one in the armed forces is prosecuted without new evidence.

Following a Commons statement by the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, Tory former defence minister Sir Mike Penning urged the Northern Ireland Secretary to “become a little more forceful” in supporting veterans.

Cabinet meeting
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He added: “How are we going to protect them from these vexatious claims against them which is destroying their lives?”

Later, Conservative MP Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) asked: “Can the Secretary of State assure the House that the frequently stated commitment of the Government to end the witch hunt of our ex-service people, the vexatious prosecutions … will not be sacrificed on the altar of Stormont political expediency?”

Responding, Mr Smith said: “The Prime Minister yesterday was absolutely clear. We cannot accept unfair or vexatious pursuits of our veterans when there is no new evidence.

“We will bring forward legislation but that will be the focus of this Government as we develop legislation across both this agreement and for armed forces more generally.”

Stalled legacy mechanisms related to Troubles killings, agreed by the region’s parties as part of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, are finally set to be implemented as part of the deal to restore powersharing.

They include an independent investigation unit to establish if any prosecutorial opportunities remain, and a truth recovery body to help families find out more details about the deaths of their loved ones in cases where prosecutions are unlikely.

Mr Johnson was asked at a press conference on Monday about the prospect of more veterans being prosecuted.

He stood by the Conservatives’ general election manifesto pledge to protect armed forces veterans from the 30-year conflict from unfair prosecutions without new evidence.

The Prime Minister said the Stormont parties had done a good job balancing that with giving confidence to victims of violence who are seeking answers.

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