British Army Northern Ireland veterans are being ‘hounded by ex-IRA chiefs who entered politics and are using levers of state to rewrite history’, claims former minister Johnny Mercer

  • Johnny Mercer has called for public inquiry into prosecutors in Northern Ireland
  • The former veterans’ minister claimed ‘extremists’ in government are using the ‘levers of state to re-write history’
  • Mercer accused former ‘IRA leaders’ of pursuing Troubles soldiers while ‘concealing their own murderous behaviour’

Former veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer sensationally called for a public inquiry into prosecutors in Northern Ireland yesterday, claiming ‘extremists’ in government are using the ‘levers of state to re-write history.’

In a blistering speech to the Commons, the Tory MP accused former ‘IRA leaders’ who entered politics in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement of pursuing Troubles soldiers while ‘concealing their own murderous behaviour.’

Mr Mercer, an ex-Army captain, pointed to five prosecutions of ex-troops in Northern Ireland last year which collapsed or resulted in acquittals, including two former paratroopers cleared over the murder of IRA leader Joe McCann 50 years ago.

Under parliamentary privilege, Mr Mercer named Barra McGrory QC as being Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions ‘when the cases were decided upon.’

Former veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer (pictured) sensationally called for a public inquiry into prosecutors in Northern Ireland yesterday, claiming ‘extremists’ in government are using the ‘levers of state to re-write history’

Under parliamentary privilege, Mr Mercer named Barra McGrory QC (pictured) as being Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions ‘when the cases were decided upon’

He said: ‘I make no assertions of his motives, but it is a fact that Barra McGrory was previous to his appointment a long-term solicitor in Northern Ireland for the Republican cause.

‘His family members were present at the peace talks in Northern Ireland at the behest of the IRA, he represented Martin McGuinness at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and represented Gerry Adams over many years.’

Mr Mercer said Mr McGrory QC should ‘never have been involved’ in the McCann case, remarking that the Official IRA commanding officer, shot dead in Belfast in 1972, was a friend of Adams.

He also slammed the decision to pursue the prosecution of terminally-ill soldier Dennis Hutchings, 80, who died while on trial in Belfast in October over a 1974 shooting.

The MP for Plymouth Moor View also questioned the position of ex-IRA prisoner and current Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, overseeing the province’s police force, given he was jailed over a bombing at the Old Bailey in 1973.

He added: ‘I could go on and on about the almost total infiltration of the justice and political systems in Northern Ireland by those who in any other country would be prevented from going anywhere near elected office or public service given their convictions and handed the levers of state to re-write history in their own image.’

He said the ‘professional decisions’ of the prosecution service in Northern Ireland had last year ‘been proved wrong, time and again.’

Mr McGrory has previously insisted his office mounted many more cases against paramilitaries and has denied any ‘imbalance of approach’ within the prosecution service and has stressed its impartiality.

Mr Mercer quit his government post over inaction on a Conservative manifesto promise to protect Northern Ireland veterans.

He has since vigorously campaigned to end perceived ‘vexatious’ prosecutions, but has also criticised government ‘amnesty’ proposals to end all Troubles-era prosecutions, insisting ‘pathways to justice’ for Britons should not be cut off.

Mr Mercer said Mr McGrory QC should ‘never have been involved’ in the McCann case. Pictured: The family of Joe McCann on May 4, 2021

In his speech, Mr Mercer acknowledged that not every individual who served in Northern Ireland met the standards expected, but said that it is now ‘impossible in the vast majority of these cases’ to address the issues in criminal courts decades later.

He added: ‘It is inevitable that given the studious record keeping of the State in Northern Ireland, when contrasted with the murderous chaos conducted by the terrorists, that this pursuit of political and financial gain was inevitably going to only be conducted one way – against those who strived night and day to prevent civil war in Northern Ireland, and not against those who woke up in the morning and made deliberate and conscious choices to go and kill women and children in pursuit of their aims.’

Mr Mercer, who has repeatedly clashed with the government on veterans issues and this week refused to defend Boris Johnson over the ‘partygate’ scandal, hit out at Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis over his ‘childlike naïveté’ in proposals to deal with Ulster’s troubled past.

He added that the minister had missed eight self-imposed deadlines for legislation to be brought to the Commons. It is now not expected until the summer.

Responding on behalf of the government, Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns said any delays to legacy legislation were to ‘ensure we get this right.’

‘It is absolutely, unambiguously, unequivocally, the commitment of the government that this Bill will be brought forward and put before the House of Commons,’ he added.

Mr McGrory and Mr Kelly were contacted for comment.  

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