The well meaning, and entirely honourable, attempt to protect British soldiers from the relentless witch hunt being perpetrated against them, by the Public Prosecution Service and PSNI, could inadvertently leave former members of the RUC and UDR exposed.
Recommendations put forward by the Westminster Defence Select Committee made clear that any initial statute would not include the RUC, therefore officers involved in shooting incidents would remain liable for prosecution.
Alongside this, there could well be a challenge to the validity of any armed forces statute of limitations on a number of grounds, including whether it breached ECHR on selectivity grounds.
International law may dictate that the statute should apply to both state and non state activities, and therefore it could open the door to an amnesty for IRA terrorists, who as yet have escaped justice.
There may also be the potential to challenge the rolling out of any statute within Northern Ireland as being in breach of the perverse Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provision. This could well create a situation whereby all other UK regiments would benefit from the statute, but Northern Ireland regiments that served in Operation Banner, such as the UDR, would be left vulnerable and outside the legislative provision.
There are already significant concerns over the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), which is to operate independently of the PSNI. This unit will investigate all state related killings, but will not investigate any republican terrorist acts that did not lead to a fatality.
An IRA bomb attack, that led to severe injuries for armed forces personnel or civilians, would not be re-investigated if there had been no fatalities.
The proposed Northern Ireland Bill, stemming from the Stormont House Agreement, also permits the Irish Government to redact information BEFORE it is provided to the HIU, whilst the British Government are committed to handing over all material, and can only make redactions AFTER the HIU have completed their investigations.
This fatal flaw in the Stormont House Agreement will permit the Irish Government to withhold information in relation to IRA activity and/or collusion with the Garda. No such luxury is afforded to the British Government.
It is imperative that Unionist political representatives satisfy themselves that any protections offered by a proposed statute of limitations would, quite properly, extend to the Ulster Defence Regiment and mostly importantly, will not act as a Trojan horse towards an amnesty for IRA terrorists that carried out atrocities such as La Mon, Enniskillen, Kingsmill and Bloody Friday.
It is clear that many aspects of the Stormont House Agreement, reflected in the proposed Northern Ireland Bill, need to be amended for reasons outlined above but specifically in relation to the unbalanced and ‘independent’ nature of the HIU. Such independence, in a sop to Sinn Fein, perpetuates the republican narrative that the state can not be trusted to investigate legacy matters.
However, perhaps worst of all, it perversely lends weight to the suggestion there was some equivalence between the IRA ‘struggle’, waged via terrorism, and the legitimate actions of the state in combating republican terrorism.