1.Between August 1969 and July 2007, over 300,000 soldiers served in Northern Ireland as part of Operation Banner, the longest continuous campaign in the history of the British Army. Those soldiers were deployed to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and other security forces. At its height, more than 27,000 military personnel operated out of bases in more than a hundred locations across the Province.
2.On 1 August 2005, following a statement by the IRA that it was ending its armed campaign, the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Peter Hain MP announced a two-year plan to scale down its presence in Northern Ireland from 10,500 to 5,000 by August 2007. A year later, on 28 March 2006, the Army published a timetable for the withdrawal of troops and closure of bases, from 40 to 14 sites, by the summer of 2007.
3.Operation Banner resulted in the death of 1,441 serving personnel, 722 of whom were killed in paramilitary attacks. Over the same period, British soldiers were responsible for the deaths of around 300 people, over half of whom were civilians. Those deaths have been the subject of investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) and the Legacy Investigations Branch (LIB), as part of broader investigations into Troubles-related deaths.
4.Our Report, Who guards the guardians? MoD support for former and serving personnel, highlighted the serious failings of IHAT in its investigations into alleged criminal activity in Iraq. That Report concluded that:
With the prospect of investigations into British deployments in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland, the Government must prove both in private, but especially in public that in adhering to the pursuit of justice and the rule of law, it does not lose sight of its moral responsibility and its commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant with those who have served.
5.The PSNI’s investigations and the disproportionate focus on former service personnel reinforced the concerns raised in that Report. We therefore decided to hold a short inquiry into the matter, the purpose of which was to establish the options available to the UK Government to protect those who served in Operation Banner from having investigations reopened long after the events concerned.
6.On 7 March 2017, we took oral evidence from Professor Philippe Sands QC, Professor Kieran McEvoy, Professor Peter Rowe and Professor Richard Ekins. We also sought written evidence from the PSNI, Professor Jonathan Tonge and Professor McEvoy. We had planned to take evidence from Ministers from both the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence. However, the decision of the House to call an early General Election has necessitated a truncated evidence programme and Report.
7.In our Report on the conduct of IHAT, we stated that in adhering to the pursuit of justice and the rule of law, the Government must not lose sight of its moral responsibility and its commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant. This responsibility is just as important for veterans who served decades ago in Northern Ireland as it is for former and current service personnel who served in more recent conflicts. Our Report sets out the steps the Government must take in the next Parliament—as a priority—to protect former service personnel facing investigations into historical allegations arising from Operation Banner. If it does not, then the spectre of another IHAT debacle will become all too real.
1 BBC News (1 August 2005),
2 BBC News (28 March 2006).
3 Sixth Report from the Defence Committee, Who guards the guardians? MoD support for former and serving personnel, Session 2016–17, HC109.
25 April 2017