Kenny Donaldson, SEFF’s Director of Services stated: “As an organisation with hundreds of former military veterans who served in the context of The ‘Northern Ireland Troubles’ and which has a good understanding of the needs and issues facing military veterans caught up in other Wars and conflicts whether that be; The Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan we are dismayed that ideological politics is once again getting in the way of our military veterans receiving equitable treatment to their GB counterparts”.
“We are talking here about individuals and local families from across the denominational and political divides who have been harmed through their service within the various Regiments which comprise the British Army. War and terrorism is not the work of soldiers, it is of the making of fanatics and insurrectionists and/or a failure of politics”.
“As an absolute minimum Northern Ireland should be represented on the Armed Forces Covenant Group and it is scandalous that this has yet to happen and furthermore, there should be a commitment across the Board by the various political parties which comprise our Government that they will ensure that military veterans and their families are appropriately provided for”.
“Sinn Fein claims to be the political movement which stands up for equality yet here we have a situation where it is actively preventing equality from being delivered for those living within the Country where they hold elected office, their fellow Countrymen and women equality, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Dissenter – how is that consistent with that Movement’s protestations around the issue of equality?”
“The politics needs taken out of these issues and Government here needs to belatedly do the right thing,” concluded Mr Donaldson.
Equality Legislation blocks full GB support for Armed Forces veterans in NI
The ministers replied: “The Armed Forces Covenant has not been adopted here and there has been no joint agreement to appoint a representative to the Armed Forces Covenant Reference Group.
“No specific arrangements were made to make members aware of the Covenant Fund; however, details of how to apply are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covenant-fund-guidance-on-how-to-apply.”
The former RIR captain, who received a military Cross for bravery in Afghanistan, was angered by the response and said that the Ministry of Defence in London – and former Prime Minister David Cameron – both understood that the Covenant was being implemented well in Northern Ireland.
“This answer is not only staggering,” he said. “it lacks detail, coherence, humility or even a degree of understanding reality. Nor is it in keeping with what was outlined at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in 2013, at which the DUP was represented. At the Committee it was made clear that, bar specific devolved issues, there were no obstacles to delivering the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.
“Further to that, in June this year I received a letter from Mark Lancaster TD MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans. In it he stated, ‘While it is true that the implementation of certain aspects of the Covenant does present particular challenges for Northern Ireland, implementation of the Covenant there (Northern Ireland) is progressing at pace.’
“This was the same position that was verbally explained to myself and Andy Allen MLA by his predecessor, Anna Soubry MP, in 2014, and on multiple occasions by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron MP.”
The covenant has also been adopted in five out of 11 councils here, he said.
But the response from the First and Deputy First Ministers is “entirely at odds” with the understanding expressed by Mr Cameron and the MoD.
He went on to accuse the Executive of “turning a blind eye to delivering it”, and using Section 75 as “a feeble excuse for inaction”.
(Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act requires government and public authorities to ensure that equality of opportunity and good relations are central to policy making and service delivery).
The MLA also laid down a dramatic ultimatum to the First and Deputy First Ministers.
“If you cannot – or worse still, will not – deliver the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland, or even participate in the Covenant Reference Group, then get out of the way and allow the Opposition to engage. Our Veterans don’t want advantage; they just want to be treated fairly and not be disadvantaged because of their service.”
UUP should focus on issues affecting armed forces instead of party political attacks
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said the Ulster Unionist Party appear more interested in playing party politics with our armed forces rather than securing proper treatment for those who serve. He also highlighted that opposition from all nationalist political representatives in Northern Ireland cannot be ignored.
He said, ‘It is deeply disappointing that Doug Beattie would seek to drag the proper recognition of our armed forces down into the realm of political point scoring.
The issues presented by Section 75 cannot be ignored and they were specifically highlighted in the “Veterans Transition Review” carried out by Lord Ashcroft which recommended that it be amended. He specifically stated that “the only way for Covenant-related provision to be enacted in full would be through Westminster legislation to amend Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act”.
The need to amend Section 75 has also specifically been highlighted by the Regimental Association of the Royal Irish Regiment and by Departments here in Northern Ireland.
Lord Ashcroft’s review was agreed by the then Prime Minister and he visited Northern Ireland at the specific invitation of my party colleague Brenda Hale and was able to meet with the then First Minister and senior military personnel within 38 (Irish) Brigade. That review is the most detailed and comprehensive study into issues impacting veterans, running to 200 pages. It was received by the Government two years ago and there was a commitment to implementing many of its recommendations. However, there has been no movement on Section 75.
That blockage is absolutely key to moving forward on this issue and instead of playing party politics with the issue Doug Beattie and the Ulster Unionist Party should join the calls for action at Westminster.
Whilst Doug Beattie wants the Opposition “to engage” he conveniently ignores that his partners in opposition, the SDLP have opposed every proposal to offer assistance to our armed forces and veterans. The blanket refusal by political nationalism to recognise the service and sacrifice of our armed forces is of course deeply disappointing and leads to other instances, for example in local government where proposals are blocked.
The DUP will continue to defend our armed forces and we will press for progress at every opportunity. I would hope that we could work together with the UUP for that shared goal rather than engage in party political sniping.’
Prime Minister’s Office – In the first instance I would refer you to the NI exec who have given this response and in relation to any specific questions around the armed forces covenant I would refer you to the Ministry of Defence.
Jim Allister said:
“While Section 75 may need adjustment to fully adopt the Covenant in Northern Ireland there is no question that the Executive both could and should do more. There has been a lamentable failure to even engage with Westminster on the Covenant.
“As we highlighted in our last manifesto, former NIO Minister Mike Penning told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that members of the Stormont Executive failed to even respond to an invitation to discuss how to help veterans and their families.
“The question is why. One suspects that it was the Sinn Fein veto in action, again!”