British soldiers not exempt from investigation into Northern Ireland Troubles

The British Prime Minister is under fire after she claimed the investigation system is "patently unfair"

British soldiers not exempt from investigation into Northern Ireland Troubles

File photo of a Belfast mural, 15-10-2017. Image: David Young/PA Archive/PA Images

British soldiers will not be exempt from a new investigation into the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

It means veterans could face prosecution over killings carried out during the conflict.

The plan to establish a new Historical Investigations Unit was first put forward in 2014 - however there has been debate about what it should include ever since.

Britain's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley this afternoon launched a public consultation on dealing with legacy issues - which is set to run until September.

A number of Westminster backbenchers have called for an amnesty for crimes perpetrated during the conflict - that would include former servicemen and paramilitaries.

The idea has gained traction in recent months, amid claims the prosecution of former soldiers amounts to a "witch-hunt."

Both the PSNI and Northern Irish public prosecutor's office have warned that the claims do not carry any weight - with figures showing no unfair focus on former members of the security forces.

Criticism

The British Prime Minister Theresa May has come in for heavy criticism after she claimed in the House of Commons that the system for investigating the actions of soldiers and police during the Troubles is "patently unfair."

"We have an unfair situation at the moment," she said.

"The situation we have at the moment is that the only people being investigated for these issues that happened in the past are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement in Northern Ireland - that is patently unfair.

"Terrorists are not being investigated, terrorists should be investigated and that is what the government wants to see."

PSNI figures suggest investigations into murders by the British Army in Northern Ireland account for around 30% of the PSNI's legacy workload.

Police are investigating more than 1,000 deaths in total.  

Mrs May also claimed peace in the North today is "very much due to the work of our armed forces and law enforcement in Northern Ireland."

"Patently inaccurate"

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill has written to Mrs May asking her to correct the record over her "patently inaccurate claims.”

“These remarks are deeply insensitive to the loss and pain of hundreds of families who have been bereaved by the British state forces,” she said.

“They have caused deep hurt and offence and could even undermine confidence in the rule of law and the administration of justice.

“They are also demonstrably untrue as has been evidenced by official statistics and statements on legacy investigations.”

She also asked Mrs May to clarify whether she believes British state forces should be held above the law.

"False information"

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly welcomed the consultation launch, but warned that Mrs May should check her facts.

"I suspect, after debating this in the media with Jeffrey Donaldson over the last couple of days, that the DUP were the ones who briefed her," he said.

"She was giving false information; giving untrue information to Westminster - and I think she should withdraw that."

DUP MP Jeffery Donaldson has called for a wider statute of limitations for the British armed - including those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He warned that confining it to Northern Ireland would lead to pressure from paramilitaries for similar treatment.