The British Prime Minister’s plans for an “amnesty” for British veterans who served in Northern Ireland puts the peace process at risk, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) has warned.
Colum Eastwood (Foyle) was the first of the newly elected cohort of MPs to make his maiden speech in the Commons.
Responding to the Queen’s Speech, Mr Eastwood highlighted Government plans to “tackle vexatious claims” against veterans, particularly those who served in Northern Ireland, and “seek better ways of dealing with legacy issues that provide better outcomes for victims and survivors”.
He claimed that alongside Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, such a policy threatens peace in Northern Ireland.
He told MPs: “Equally damaging to our progress and our peace process is the current proposal to basically give an amnesty for British soldiers for … whatever they carried out in Northern Ireland during our very, very difficult Troubles.
I come from a place called Derry, and in 1972 14 innocent civil rights marchers were gunned down by the British Army on the streets of Derry.
“They were demanding their rights, they were marching against internment and an international tribunal has stood by the fact that they were innocent and they were unlawfully killed.
“Is prosecuting those veterans vexatious? No, it is not.
“We will resist this attempt to undermine our peace process and our political progress and this insult to victims, all of the victims of our terrible, terrible past, and the opportunity that has been denied to them since 1998 to find full truth and full justice.
“We stand by every single one of those victims, no matter who the perpetrator was. People on opposite benches need to understand this.
If you begin with an amnesty for the British Army you will end up with an amnesty for everybody.
“That is the door that you’re opening up with this proposal.
“So it would better suit this Prime Minister and this Government to stand by all of the victims, all of the innocent victims who have been searching for truth and justice for far too long.”
Mr Eastwood said that along with newly elected colleague Claire Hanna (Belfast South) the SDLP would be “loud in voice” in opposing Brexit.
He added: “This Prime Minister wants to drag us out of the European Union against our will. I know he’s got a huge majority but the only majority that I’m concerned about is the pro-Remain majority in Northern Ireland that now thankfully has its voice back in this place.
“We may be few in number, but we intend to be very, very loud in voice.
“The Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit is totally reckless, it drives a coach and horses through the Good Friday Agreement and the relationships that we have built up over many years right across our community and right across our islands.”