Boris Johnson’s Government urged to fulfil promises to Troubles veterans

Bloody Sunday Credit: PA Media

Boris Johnson’s Government was urged to deliver on its promise to Northern Ireland veterans after the Queen’s Speech did not contain a Bill on legacy investigations.

The Prime Minister promised that there would be legislation, but no timetable was set out by officials and no specific Bill was mentioned by the Queen during the State Opening of Parliament.

Downing Street would not guarantee that legislation would be in place within the next 12 months.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to do this promptly and we also want to make sure this is done properly.

“We have listened to a wide range of stakeholders since last March and we’ve also engaged substantially with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland parties on this issue and we will bring forward legislation in due course.”

The proposed new system is expected to focus on “information recovery and reconciliation” rather than criminal prosecutions which are unlikely to succeed.

Politicians from across the island of Ireland have voiced anger at the prospect of a form of amnesty on Troubles prosecutions.

Northern Ireland’s two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, both criticised the move reported last week by the UK Government to introduce a statute of limitations on prosecuting offences committed prior to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.

Asked if the promised legislation would cover both the alleged actions of service personnel and terrorists, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We will set out the proposals in due course, I’m not going to jump ahead of that.”

Johnny Mercer, a former army officer and veterans minister, said he had been “personally promised” there would be legislation on a number of occasions, but it was never delivered – “Hence I resigned.

“My successor promised it would be in the Queen’s Speech. It is not.

“At some stage, we must fulfil our promises to our veterans.”

Mr Mercer said “an ambition” in the Queen’s Speech “is not legislation” and “doesn’t change anything”.

The row over the Queen’s Speech came as a coroner recorded that 10 people killed in west Belfast 50 years ago in disputed shootings involving British soldiers were “entirely innocent”.

The Army was found to be responsible for nine of the 10 deaths in August 1971, which included a mother-of-eight and a Catholic priest.

In his introduction to the Queen’s Speech package, Mr Johnson said: “We will introduce legislation to address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, ensuring that our proposals deliver better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans, while ending the cycle of investigations.”

An official document accompanying the speech said further details of the proposed legislation would be confirmed “in the coming weeks”.

Former minister for veterans Johnny Mercer Credit: centre

Earlier this month, the trial of two former paratroopers accused of the murder of Official IRA commander Joe McCann in 1972 collapsed due to legal issues related to the admissibility of statements and interviews given by the ex-soldiers.

The Queen’s Speech document said: “It is clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy of the past is not working well for anybody, with criminal investigations increasingly unlikely to deliver successful criminal justice outcomes and failing to obtain answers for the majority of victims and families.

“The Government will introduce a legacy package that delivers better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans, focuses on information recovery and reconciliation, and ends the cycle of investigations.”

In her address to Parliament on Tuesday, the Queen said: “My ministers will promote the strength and integrity of the Union.

“Measures will be brought forward to strengthen devolved government in Northern Ireland and address the legacy of the past.”