12:15, November 11 228 0 theguardian.com

2019-11-11 12:15:06
Irish deputy PM criticises Tory pledge on Troubles inquiries

Ireland has expressed concern over a Conservative party pledge to change the law to protect former soldiers in Northern Ireland from possible prosecution over deaths during the Troubles.

The Tories have promised to end what they describe as “unfair trials” of soldiers accused of unlawful killings in Northern Ireland by amending the Human Rights Act to exclude any case dating from before the act came into force in 2000.

Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, tweeted on Monday: “This is very concerning. 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.”

Ben Wallace, the UK’s defence secretary, said the election pledge was not an amnesty but would protect veterans from “vexatious” legal action.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that conflicts between different pieces of international law had led to “continued, repeated” inquests. Up to 1,000 former personnel face being questioned as witnesses in 70 inquests.

“How do we make sure that soldiers are not above the law but that vexatious claims don’t trigger continued investigations time and time again into the same people? That is unfair to our soldiers and people who’ve gone out to defend us, whether that’s in Iraq, Afghanistan or Northern Ireland,” Wallace said.

The campaign promise was criticised by some Northern Ireland parties. Doug Beattie, an Ulster Unionist member of the legislative assembly in Stormont, said he would not support the move, and Sinn Féin’s Linda Dillon described it as “unacceptable”.

The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, said the party would oppose “any proposals aimed at erasing the ability of victims and survivors to access truth, justice and accountability”, regardless of their allegiances. “If this appears in Boris Johnson’s manifesto, it makes a mockery of the unreserved apology offered by David Cameron following the publication of the Saville inquiry report,” he said.

Legal commentators have said any move to amend the Human Rights Act would put the UK on collision course with the European court of human rights. Signatories to the European convention on human rights are obliged to conduct investigations where there has been a loss of life as a result of use of force by agents of the state.

In March the then Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, was forced to apologise and faced calls for her resignation when she said in parliament that deaths caused by security forces during the Troubles were not crimes.