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Armed Forces Covenant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence), DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons) 2:14 pm, 2nd February 2017

I cannot add to what the hon. Gentleman has said. He is absolutely right, and I urge the Minister to look at this.

In drawing my remarks to a close, I just want to make two points. First, the aftercare service provided by the Royal Irish Regiment is absolutely crucial. In Northern Ireland, we have many thousands of former soldiers who served with the Royal Irish Regiment Home Service and the Ulster Defence Regiment, and the aftercare service is undertaking very valuable work in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will ensure that the aftercare service, which is much needed, will be retained.

My final point is an important one. In Westminster on Saturday, together with the hon. Members for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) and for South Antrim, I attended a rally of veterans from across the United Kingdom of Operation Banner, the longest-running military operation in the history of the British Army. They are concerned about the recent arrests and prosecutions of former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, some of whom are in their 60s and 70s, and we share their concerns.

We share the concern that after years of service to our country, men and women who ought to be enjoying their retirement are now waiting for the knock on the door. We also share the concern about the circumstances, because it seems that the focus is on what the armed forces and the police did in Northern Ireland, and much less on what the terrorists did. It is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of the 3,000 unsolved killings in Northern Ireland were carried out by terrorist organisations, yet the vast majority of the resources currently going into investigations are for those relating to alleged killings by the armed forces and the police, which is unacceptable.

I encourage the Minister and his colleagues, both in his Department and in other relevant Departments, to give serious consideration to the introduction of a statute of limitations that would protect the men and women who served our country and who deserve that protection. I recognise that no one is above the law, but when cases have been investigated—in some cases not just once, but twice—and the men and women who served our country have been exonerated only to find, years later, that those cases are being reopened, then I think there is something wrong. It is having a big impact on recruitment to our armed forces. Young men and women are looking at what is happening and asking themselves, “Why would I join the armed forces if I face the prospect, in the future, of being prosecuted?” I repeat that no one is above the law, but I really do think the Government need to act. They need to protect the men and women who protected us in our darkest hour.