By Finian Cunningham
November 12, 2019 "Information
Clearing House" - Boris Johnson’s
pledge to end prosecutions of soldiers accused
of unlawful killings during Northern Ireland’s
conflict not only denies justice for victims,
it’s a license for British forces in all
conflicts to kill with impunity.
Prime Minister Johnson made his
announcement on the annual Armistice Day
commemorating the end of World War I. In a
blatant electioneering ploy, he said if his
Conservative government is re-elected on
December 12, then British law will be amended to
bar any future prosecution of soldiers for
alleged atrocities committed during Northern
Ireland’s three-decade conflict (1969-1998).
Such an amnesty has long been called for by
right-wing Tory lawmakers, many of them
ex-servicemen, as well as the military
establishment and jingoistic British media. The
Daily Mail has been campaigning to end what it
calls ‘witch-hunts’ of veteran soldiers accused
of unlawful killings in Northern Ireland.
Johnson’s vow to scrap prosecutions is red
meat to his increasingly right-wing Conservative
Party and supporters, and is no doubt aimed at
rallying voters in elections next month to push
through his Brexit plans.
There have been mounting efforts by Tory
parliamentarians to grant immunity to British
soldiers who were deployed in Northern Ireland.
Earlier this year, General Richard Dannatt
who was head of Britain’s armed forces and who
is now a member of the House of Lords,
told the media: “What we can’t allow to
go forward is the presumption that those deaths
in which the military were involved were wrong…
Soldiers did their duty, got up in the morning,
sometimes they came under attack. They returned
fired. They didn’t set out to murder people.
Terrorists set out every morning to murder
people and successfully did so. There is a huge
distinction to be drawn.”
This view underlines the complacency and
moral torpor of many in the Conservative Party
who are adamant that no British soldier should
ever face justice for crimes against civilians
in Northern Ireland.
Johnson’s latest pandering to the
military wing of his party is a stark
reneging on previous commitments by the
British government to apply due process
to claims by victims. Irish Foreign
Minister Simon Coveney
said it was “very concerning”
that Johnson was planning to shield
former British personnel from
The British initiative breaches past
agreements between the London and Dublin
governments and political parties in Northern
Ireland that there would be no amnesty for
ex-soldiers accused of serious crimes. Dealing
with “legacy issues” was an agreed
means of consolidating the peace process in
Ireland with truth and reconciliation.
During Northern Ireland’s conflict, which
ended in 1998 with the signing of an historic
peace agreement, nearly 3,500 people were
killed, including civilians, rival
paramilitaries and members of the British
security forces. The British army has been
linked to at least 300 unlawful killings, most
of them unarmed civilians. Hundreds of other
deaths are recorded to have resulted from
British intelligence services
colluding with loyalist paramilitaries to
carry out assassinations.
The most notorious incident was the Bloody
Sunday shootings in Derry in January 1972 when
14 unarmed civilians were shot dead at a public
protest for civil rights. The British parachute
regiment opened fire on the crowds for which
former Prime Minister David Cameron eventually
apologized in 2010 while addressing Parliament.
One former member of the paratroopers whose
identity has not been publicly revealed is
prosecuted on charges of murder – 47 years
after the massacre. So far, no other soldier has
been brought to justice for Bloody Sunday.
reportedly to be up to 150 former British
soldiers who could potentially find themselves
in the dock for many other lethal shootings of
civilians in Northern Ireland.
Bloody Sunday was only one of several
lesser-known mass shootings carried out by
British soldiers deployed in the province. One
of those atrocities was the
Springhill Massacre in Belfast on July 9,
1972, when five civilians, including three
children, were shot dead by British snipers.
Another horrific event in Belfast was in August
1971 which became known as the Ballymurphy
Massacre when 11 civilians were murdered by
The commander of the parachute regiment in
Northern Ireland was Captain Mike Jackson who
later became the top general of British armed
forces serving in the Balkans and Iraq. Jackson
accused of falsely claiming at the time of
the shootings in Northern Ireland that his
troops were coming under fire from militants
belonging to the Irish Republican Army.
Still another appalling murder was that of
12-year-old Majella O’Hare. She was on her way
to church on a bright summer day on August 14,
1976, when she was
fatally shot in the back by a paratrooper.
As her father nursed his dying daughter, he was
verbally abused by soldiers at the scene. One of
them was later charged with murder but he was
later acquitted by a judge.
Despite hundreds of alleged deadly shootings,
only a few British soldiers were ever
convicted for their crimes in Northern
Ireland. All three served less than five years
and on release from prison were reinstated in
the armed forces.
Relatives for Justice, a human rights group
based in Belfast, says that
documentary evidence shows the British
government operated a secret policy of indemnity
for soldiers in Northern Ireland. The soldiers
knew they would be protected for wrongdoing and
therefore proceeded to use wanton lethal force
against civilian communities whom they suspected
of being IRA sympathizers.
Paul O’Connor, a spokesman for another human
rights group, the
Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, said the
British government is now explicitly signaling
that their troops are allowed to “get away
On Johnson’s vow to grant immunity, O’Connor
said: “This is but the latest in a long
series of legally dubious, morally questionable
and factually incorrect interventions by the
Tories on the issue of prosecutions. Contrary to
what is being claimed by Johnson and others,
these are not ‘reinvestigations’, nor have these
cases been heard previously before a court of
He added: “When it comes to the possible
prosecutions of former soldiers arising from the
conflict in Ireland the Tories would appear to
have the same inability to grasp the actual
detail as they do when it comes to Brexit and
the Irish border. This is cynical electoral
spin-doctoring designed to coincide with
What we are witnessing is the unedifying
spectacle of the British establishment slamming
the door shut on many outstanding demands for
justice for victims and their families who
suffered British state violence.
If British forces can kill citizens of the
United Kingdom with impunity as they did in
Northern Ireland, then there is absolutely no
restraint when it comes to military
interventions elsewhere around the world.
British army killers are evidently above the
has written extensively on international
affairs, with articles published in several
languages. He is a Master’s graduate in
Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a
scientific editor for the Royal Society of
Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a
career in newspaper journalism. He is also a
musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he
worked as an editor and writer in major news
media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish
Times and Independent.
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