Candidate for Tory Party leader Jeremy Hunt has been asked to clarify his statements after saying that Northern Ireland veterans and IRA terrorists should be treated “in the same way”.
The prospective future prime minister made the comments during a leadership hustings on Wednesday. Saying that whilst investigating deaths that occurred during The Troubles was a “difficult issue”, Mr Hunt remarked: “The main thing and I want to be honest about this, you know, the peace in Northern Ireland was hard won and under the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement, there is a need to treat both sides in the same way, however angry we may have felt about what happened.”
His comments come after outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May was accused of “betraying” Northern Ireland veterans, after a memo from the leader revealed by The Telegraph last month exposed that she had personally intervened to stop a new law that could have protected veterans of the UK’s armed forces from prosecution. The memo had said that British veterans should be given “equal, rather than preferential, treatment” relative to others involved in the consultation, which could include IRA terrorists.
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said Mr Hunt’s comments were “nonsense”.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Belfast Telegraph that he thinks that the Conservative Party leadership hopeful “needs a little more information about what exactly happened as a result of the [Belfast] agreement”.
Tory MP Mark Francois: "Jeremy Hunt is suggesting we put British Army veterans on a par with alleged IRA terrorists. I think that is ridiculous. I hope he is going to withdraw that some time within the next 24 hours."@JuliaHB1 pic.twitter.com/BngIm5Y1ni
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) June 27, 2019
“The reality is the IRA terrorists were given letters to enable them to return home from being on the run and evading justice,” Sir Jeffrey said, adding that they had also “benefited from the early release of prisoners and there have been many other concessions made to terrorists”.
“What the people of Northern Ireland have had to put up with is watch the terrorists, who were responsible for so much murder and mayhem, being given an easy ride and few of them being brought before the courts,” he added.
Iraq and Afghan veteran Doug Beattie, member of the Northern Irish assembly for the Ulster Unionist Party, asked for Mr Hunt to clarify his remarks, saying that as far as his party is concerned, “there is no equivalence between the Security forces — the lawful forces of the State — and the terrorists they were trying to thwart, any more than there is equivalence between a police force and the muggers, burglars and rapists they are trying to catch”.
How dare a British Cabinet minister suggest some kind of equality between terrorists & the British Forces that British Cabinet ministers sent to Northern Ireland to prevent terrorist mass murder & destruction? https://t.co/sBziTAENXF
— Rɪᴄʜᴀʀᴅ Kᴇᴍᴘ ⋁ (@COLRICHARDKEMP) June 27, 2019
The foreign secretary also received criticism from within his own party, with Brexiteer Tory MP and army veteran Steve Baker saying that former servicemen in his constituency of Wycombe “will be alarmed” by the comments, saying: “Jeremy Hunt should clarify his intentions on [Northern Ireland] veterans. We must stop the unjust pursuit of people who upheld the rule of law and kept the peace.”
Veteran James Heappey MP called the comments “unforgivable”, adding: “There is no equivalence between IRA terrorists and members of our armed forces. This line has held the Government back on this important issue. The next PM must see this differently and get it sorted.”
While the European Research Group’s Mark Francois, formerly of the Territorial Army, said Mr Hunt should apologise, telling talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer that the remarks left him “hopping mad”.
Mr Francois said: “In other words he is suggesting that we put British army veterans who helped to win the peace in Northern Ireland, without whom there never would have been a Good Friday agreement on a par with alleged IRA terrorists.”
Mr Hunt later appeared to backtrack on his comments, with a spokesman saying Thursday: “Jeremy again set out his strong desire to resolve the injustice of historic prosecutions faced by our brave veterans. He has always been totally clear there is no moral equivalence between the actions of terrorists who seek to kill and maim, and soldiers who acted to promote peace and protect the public.”
‘Repugnant,’ ‘Despicable’: Veterans React to Bloody Sunday Prosecutions https://t.co/kZOTG7sC4u
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 15, 2019