Northern Ireland: Britons want to see immunity for British soldiers, but not loyalists or the IRA

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
June 22, 2021, 9:42 AM UTC

A quarter of Britons also say existing sentences from the conflict should be upheld even if there is a bar on new prosecutions

Perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of legislation mentioned in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year was the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill. Following the collapse of high-profile trials due to the passage of time, the bill will instate a ban on future criminal prosecutions related to The Troubles for those on all sides of the conflict, instead promoting truth and reconciliation for families of victims. However, Britons do not think this immunity should apply to all.  

Please note that this survey was only conducted on the British mainland, i.e. in England, Scotland and Wales, and so does not include Northern Irish respondents. 

Some 48% of mainland Britons think members of the British armed forces should be given immunity from future prosecutions related to their service in Northern Ireland, including 30%) of people who would “strongly” support such a policy. Among Conservative voters this rises to 70%, compared to 29% of Labour voters.  

Approaching a fifth of Britons (19%) think British soldiers should not be not be granted immunity, however, including nearly a third (32%) of Labour voters but only 8% of Conservatives. 

This support for immunity for soldiers does not extend to Northern Irish participants in the conflict, regardless of what side they fought for.  

Approaching two fifths of Britons (38%) say that Northern Irish Loyalist forces should not be included in a bar on criminal cases, including similar proportions of Conservatives (41%) Labour voters (39%).  

Only a quarter of Britons (22%) think that Loyalists should be included in the immunity bill, with Conservatives (27%) more inclined than Labour supporters (19%) to feel this way.  

For former members of the IRA however, half of Britons (51%) want to see them left out of the provisions of the bill, including 33% who would “strongly” oppose IRA veterans being granted immunity from prosecution over The Troubles. This includes nearly two thirds of Conservative voters (64%) but less than half of Labour voters (42%), although only 19% actively want to see IRA members receive immunity, the same proportion who said so for loyalist veterans.  

Should existing convictions related to The Troubles be overturned?  

The immunity proposal put forward differs from an amnesty, in which people are formally pardoned, and will also not overturn existing convictions.  

Nearly two in five (38%) are unsure how existing sentences and punishments should be changed by the bill. However, a quarter (26%) think they should not be changed, while 23% say that sentences should be commuted and 11% convictions for those previously convicted of crimes during The Troubles should be overturned.  

Among voters, Conservatives are more likely to think existing sentences and punishment should be upheld than Labour voters (31% versus 21%) – with the difference largely as a result of Labour voters (43%) being more unsure than Conservatives (30%).  

See full results here