Northern Ireland

Military prosecutions: Veterans' protections 'should cover NI'

Penny Mordaunt Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Penny Mordaunt says she hopes new laws will be extended to apply to Troubles-era offences

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt has said she wants to end the "chilling" threat of "repeated" investigations of troops who served in Northern Ireland.

Her comment came as she announced that soldiers and veterans will be given stronger legal protections against prosecution.

Those protections would not apply for alleged offences in Northern Ireland.

But Ms Mourdant said she hopes they could - at a later date - be extended to apply to Troubles-related incidents.

The legal measures the defence secretary has announced will protect soldiers from investigation for actions carried out in the course of duty abroad after 10 years, except in "exceptional circumstances".

Ms Mordaunt said: "I do think it should cover Northern Ireland."

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Media captionJohnny Mercer withdrew his support for the PM over the historical prosecution of servicemen and women

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Gavin Robinson supported her view, saying the protections for veterans "must apply across the United Kingdom".

Conservative Party MP Johnny Mercer, who is refusing to vote for government legislation in the Commons until it ends such historical inquires, welcomed the protection for those who had served overseas.

But he said it needed to go further.

What protections will soldiers have?

The legislation, which is subject to public consultation, will stipulate that such prosecutions are not in the public interest unless there are "exceptional circumstances", such as if compelling new evidence emerged.

In a statement before her announcement, Ms Mordaunt said: "It is high time that we change the system and provide the right legal protections to make sure the decisions our service personnel take in the battlefield will not lead to repeated or unfair investigations down the line."

What will happen in Northern Ireland?

Ms Mordaunt said that she had secured agreement with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley that her concerns relating to Northern Ireland would be heard during upcoming discussions on how to deal with the past.

The Northern Ireland Office intends to update political parties on its plan to deal with legacy issues from the Troubles alongside talks on restoring devolution at Stormont.

Working groups will reportedly be established in Belfast and London.

The move follows a public consultation on proposals contained in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement, which ruled out a statute of limitations, or amnesty, for Troubles killings.

The consultation produced about 17,000 responses.

What about ongoing investigations?

Six former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles are facing prosecution.

The cases relate to the killings of two people on Bloody Sunday in Londonderry in January 1972; as well as the deaths in separate incidents of Daniel Hegarty, John Pat Cunningham; Joe McCann and Aidan McAnespie.

Not all of the charges are for murder.

The Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has said that of 26 so-called Troubles legacy cases it has taken decisions on since 2011, 13 related to republicans, eight to loyalists, and five are connected to the Army.

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