British government denies report over postponement of Troubles amnesty

NI Minister declines to tell MPs when the overdue legislation will be brought forward

Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith asked if legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles was something to be ‘shoehorned’ into the future. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images

The British government has denied reports that it has postponed legislation for an amnesty for Troubles-related crimes until after the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in May.

But Northern Ireland Minister Conor Burns declined to tell MPs when the legislation, which was promised last year, would be brought forward.

“The delay is to ensure that we get this right and that it not only achieves the government’s objective to provide the necessary protections to those who served so courageously in Northern Ireland but is also a measure that will advance the agenda of reconciliation and cross-community understanding in Northern Ireland,” he said.


Mr Burns was speaking during a debate initiated by Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP and former veterans affairs minister who has been campaigning for an amnesty for British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland.


Last July, the British government published a command paper outlining proposals that would block all investigations, prosecutions and other legal or civil actions over Troubles-related crimes alleged to have been committed either by British security forces or paramilitary groups.

The proposals drew opposition from the Irish Government and all of Northern Ireland’s political parties and the British government agreed to wide consultation before proceeding with the amnesty. But Mr Mercer said that he had yet to meet anyone from veterans’ and victims’ groups or political parties who had been actively engaged by the government on the proposals.

“Any proposals must have some degree of consent from those in Northern Ireland. Of course there will be no rapturous applause whatever is done in this space, but equally, people in Northern Ireland – victims, veterans and other groups – are not stupid; they understand the nuances of what can and cannot be achieved in legacy.

“To cut off pathways to justice for British citizens who have had their children murdered by terrorists is too much to ask. Releasing convicted murderers was one thing, and on-the-run letters were another, but denying any hope of answers for those who lost loved ones, from whatever background, is a step too far,” he said.


Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who served with the British army in Northern Ireland, asked if legislation to deal with the legacy of the Troubles was something to be “shoehorned” into the future.

“I remember Capt Robert Nairac being tortured and murdered. His family never found his body – no one ever told them. We have had to put up with that for all these years, watching others who committed those murders go free. I simply say to him that, for me, this legislation – this requirement to protect our veterans – is not just an add-on. For me, it is part of my life,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times