Britain to introduce legislation to protect N.Ireland army veterans

The Irish government last week urged London not to seek to shield former soldiers who served during conflict from prosecution

  

LONDON - Britain plans to introduce legislation to give greater legal protection to former soldiers who served during decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland in the face of opposition from the Irish government and Northern Irish lawmakers.

Prosecutions linked to the violence are increasingly unlikely to result in convictions, the government said in a briefing document issued alongside the Queen's Speech, which sets out the government's legislative agenda.

The announcement was made on the day a judge-led inquiry in Northern Ireland found that British soldiers unjustifiably shot or used disproportionate force in the deaths of up to 10 innocent people in Belfast in 1971. 

"The government will introduce a legacy package that delivers better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans, focuses on information recovery and reconciliation, and ends the cycle of investigations," the government said on Tuesday.

Allegations over unresolved crimes from Northern Ireland's "Troubles" - three decades of confrontation between Irish nationalist militants, pro-British "loyalist" paramilitaries and British military that killed around 3,600 people - remain a contentious issue 23 years after a peace deal was struck.

The Irish government last week urged London not to seek to shield former soldiers from prosecution, describing reports of such plans as deeply alarming. 

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, whose Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party heads up the devolved power-sharing government with their former pro-Britain foes, said on Tuesday that London was "attempting to slam the door to justice".

Any plan to protect soldiers from prosecutions could add to tensions in the British-run region, where young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over post-Brexit trade barriers they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill in London and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Kate Holton and Ed Osmond) ((Andrew.MacAskill@thomsonreuters.com; +447818584430; Reuters Messaging: andrew.macaskill@thomsonreuters.com))

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