British government to give amnesty to soldiers accused of crimes during Troubles

Statute of limitations to be introduced as well as plans for truth and reconciliation commission

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis visited Dublin for a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Wednesday but it was not clear if the amnesty was discussed. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

A row between the Irish and British governments is likely to erupt on Thursday over British plans to give an amnesty to British soldiers accused of crimes during the Northern Ireland Troubles.

The plans which were leaked to British newspapers Wednesday night will involve a statute of limitations so that prosecutions for crimes committed up to the Belfast Agreement in 1998 are prevented – except for cases involving war crimes, genocide or torture.

The plans were reported as preventing the prosecution of British army veterans of the conflict, but some reports said they would apply to all sides in the conflict, including IRA members.

Reports also suggested that the British government intends to institute a South African style truth and reconciliation commission.


The leaks coincide with local elections taking place in England Thursday.

If the move proceeds as reported, it would be a violation of the 2014 Stormont House Agreement involving the Northern parties and the Irish and British governments.

Irish Government sources were taken aback, stressing it was a unilateral move by the British government.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis visited Dublin for a meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney on Wednesday, but it was not clear Wednesday night if the issue was discussed

In a statement late Wednesday night, a spokesperson for Mr Coveney said: “The Irish Government discussed with our UK colleagues the commitments of the Stormont House Agreement and strongly advised against any unilateral action on such sensitive issues. We reiterated that only through a collective approach can we deal with these issues comprehensively and fairly in a way that responds to the needs of victims, survivors and society as a whole. Victims and their families are the only priority.”

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said it would be the "biggest betrayal of victims by the British government and will put a huge obstacle in the way of true reconciliation".

“This is the most unprincipled and cynical British government in many years and that’s saying something. An absolute disgrace. Shame on them,” Mr Eastwood said in a tweet.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times