Dan O’Donoghue, Press Association
08 March, 2018 01:00
Arlene Foster DUP Jeffrey Donaldson Military covenant
THE DUP has demanded amendments to a “cornerstone of the Belfast Agreement” in a bid to give extra protections to veterans.
The party’s leader Arlene Foster watched on from the visitors’ gallery in the House of Commons as chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned the Government benches that greater protections for ex-service personnel in Northern Ireland formed “part of the confidence and supply deal”.
In an opposition day debate, Sir Jeffrey told MPs there was still a “culture of fear” among veterans in the country and proposed a number of moves to remedy this.
Sir Jeffrey, backed by his nine other colleagues, called for section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to be amended to include provision for the armed forces.
The section states that public bodies should carry out functions promoting equality of opportunity between “persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation, between men and women generally, between persons with a disability and persons without and between persons with dependants and persons without”.
Sir Jeffrey said: “I do remind the House that this was something that was part of the confidence and supply agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative Party.
“We identified that this should be a priority for the Government, full implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.
“So in that context, I repeat our call to see the aftercare service currently operated by the Royal Irish Regiment in Northern Ireland, that welfare service, that vital support service for those who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Home Service, to be extended.
“And that consideration be given to enhancing the level of support that is available to those veterans in Northern Ireland who did not serve in the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Home Service but are equally deserving of welfare support.
“Secondly we want to see the Government amending section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to make specific provision for veterans of armed forces to ensure that Government departments and agencies in Northern Ireland have to have regard to the needs of veterans in bringing forward policies and implementing those policies.”
Sir Jeffrey also called for the appointment of an “armed forces champion” in Northern Ireland.
Defence Minister Mark Lancaster resisted the calls however, saying: “Some may suggest that it’s time to introduce further statuary instruments to increase uptake, but whilst I’m ready to listen to the arguments on a case by case basis I would make the point that the problem isn’t about a lack of mechanisms.
“Let’s not forget, as has been mentioned, beside the instruments already in place there is section 75. I listened very carefully to what he had to say, but it is a cornerstone of the Belfast Agreement.”
The DUP’s non-binding motion, which asked the Commons to reaffirm its commitment to ensure the covenant is “fully implemented” in Northern Ireland, was approved unopposed.
With many thanks to: Marianne Collins – Friends of Relatives of Justice in Ireland.