An Irish nationalist MP has been accused of endangering the life of a British veteran by naming him in Parliament, just hours before the Government is due to announce plans that will end Troubles prosecutions.
The Commons Speaker was on Tuesday urged to sanction Colum Eastwood, the leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democrat and Labour Party, after he chose to name a former soldier facing a potential trial over his actions during Bloody Sunday.
The man, who can be only be referred to as "Soldier F" for legal reasons, has been facing two murder and five attempted murder charges for his involvement in the massacre in 1972, when 13 people were shot dead by paratroopers.
Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service had been due to withdraw the charges against Soldier F last Friday but the hearing has been adjourned while the brother of one of the victims brings a legal challenge against the decision.
However, the naming of the veteran, who is protected by a court anonymity order due to the "real risk" posed to his life, has enraged some MPs, who on Tuesday accused Mr Eastwood of abusing privilege and undermining active court proceedings.
The Telegraph also understands the Ministry of Defence and Northern Ireland Office were assessing the potential security impact.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is set to announce the Government's intention to introduce a statute of limitations ending all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998
Credit: Brian Lawless/PA
The row erupted as Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, prepares to announce that the Government will seek to introduce a statute of limitations ending all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998.
The proposals, revealed by The Telegraph last week, will apply to all combatants in the conflict, with Mr Lewis expected to set out the Government’s intention to pass an Act of Parliament when MPs return from the summer recess.
In a statement in the Commons, he is likely to point to the collapse of recent trials as evidence of the need to draw a line under the issue more than two decades after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Government will now move towards a "truth and reconciliation" approach, similar to post-apartheid South Africa.
People involved in the conflict will also be able to testify about what happened without fear of prosecution, giving closure to families of those who were killed.
The move will provoke a backlash among Northern Ireland’s five main political parties, which have publicly opposed the idea. It is also likely to split opinion among Tory MPs, with some critics claiming it creates an effective "amnesty for terrorists".
However, Mr Lewis is expected to argue that the lack of historical records makes the likelihood of prosecuting and convicting members of the IRA near impossible.
Johnny Mercer, the former veterans minister, said he feared security assessments for Soldier F would now need to be reviewed
Credit: Geoff Pugh
A government source said: "We want to give Northern Ireland society the best chance of moving forward as one. To do that we must confront the difficult and painful reality that the realistic prospect of prosecutions is vanishingly small and while that prospect remains Northern Ireland will continue to be hamstrung by its past."
However, the announcement was at risk of being overshadowed by Mr Eastwood’s decision to name Soldier F on Tuesday.
Speaking during a debate on the Armed Forces Bill, he stated: "Almost 50 years ago, 14 unarmed civil rights marchers were murdered on the streets of Derry by the Parachute Regiment.
"For 50 years [Soldier F has] been granted anonymity. Now the Government wants to give him an amnesty.
"Does the shadow minister agree with me that nobody, none of the perpetrators involved in murder during our Troubles should be granted an amnesty."
Johnny Mercer, the former veterans minister, told The Telegraph he feared security assessments for Soldier F would now need to be reviewed, adding: "This is an appalling misuse of parliamentary privilege for which I hope Eastwood is severely sanctioned."
A senior Conservative source added: "This was a dangerous and irresponsible abuse of Parliamentary privilege. A flagrant attempt to usurp ongoing judicial proceedings, putting the safety of the individual involved in jeopardy in the process."