War veteran and UUP MLA Doug Beattie has said a general amnesty for everyone that committed crimes during the Troubles would lead to terrorists openly boasting of their atrocities.
Senior Tory and Labour MPs, including a former paratrooper have written a joint letter to Theresa May calling for an effective amnesty that would cover security force members and paramilitaries suspected of involvement in Troubles crimes.
“They are asking for an amnesty for all Troubles related crime and I am not in the position of drawing a line under those crimes,” Mr Beattie told the Belfast Telegraph.
“Justice must be allowed to run its course. An amnesty is a betrayal of victims of both the state and of those killed by terrorists and I can’t support it. Justice has to be the core of any society.”
In their letter the MPs have urged a statute of limitations that would prevent “anyone” from facing trial for offences that happened in the conflict. It comes weeks after the Government indicated a statute of limitations proposal would be included in a public consultation exercise in Northern Ireland on future mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
Their letter said a statute of limitations for soldiers only would fall foul of international law and an amnesty for all should be considered as they believed future prosecutions of paramilitaries were currently unlikely. The MPs suggested hundreds of cases against former security force members were in the “judicial pipeline” and stressed that such individuals would not be covered by the provisions of the 1998 peace agreement.
The MPs added: “The time has come, in our view, for the Government and the Labour Opposition to grip this problem, on a bipartisan basis, and agree to co-operate in enacting a Statute of Limitation to prevent historic cases being resurrected.”
Mr Beattie said: “I don’t believe they have that right. There is ongoing investigations – like into the Ballygawley bus bombing – which could name names and we could have prosecutions. They also state that soldiers could serve their full term as opposed to the two-year limit which hasn’t been tested in court. So they could serve two years like paramilitaries if there are convictions.”
He continued: “What concerns me with a general amnesty is there is the potential for every single IRA man openly boasting about their atrocities. We already have that with people in the south boasting of their actions and if that was across the board what type of society would we have then?
“It is important we have a deeper discussion on amnesties and how we deal with legacy and the past. The sooner we have the government consultation out on this the better then everyone can have their say. The results may be surprising.
“But an amnesty is something that I and my party can not support. If society wants to draw a line and move on ok, but I am not there.”
The Upper Bann MLA said soldiers and paramilitaries should all face justice if allegations are brought before courts.
“There can be no hiding place from justice,” he added.
“The Glenanne gang, for example had members that were security force personnel and civilians, they were a rogue gang of criminals and murderers. But you can’t link their actions to the hundreds and thousands of professional soldiers that served in Northern Ireland.
“People don’t realise what it was like to serve in Northern Ireland as a soldier in the early days. There was a lack of training and it needs to be understood that a soldier under extreme pressure and under fire pulling the trigger, when maybe he shouldn’t have, is very different to criminal killings and that needs to be tested.”
The letter to the MPs signals a gaining of momentum in London on an amnesty.
“Justice must be balanced and even and victims focused,” continued Mr Beattie. “It should run its course but it is important we have a deeper discussion.”