A military veterans’ campaigner has called on the Royal British Legion (RBL) to lift its ban on protest march participants in Northern Ireland using RBL facilities.
Anto Wickham of Justice for Veterans UK (JFVUK) said the RBL decision had provoked a “backlash” against the respected charity, but said he would do what he could to prevent a rift between the two groups.
JFVUK has held a number of marches in Northern Ireland, highlighting what it calls the ongoing “vindictive” criminal investigations involving former British soldiers.
In an open letter to the UK Government last April, the veterans’ campaign group said: “The treatment of UK veterans for events that occurred during past service for the government is nothing short of a national scandal.”
The RBL in Northern Ireland wrote to its members earlier this year to remind them of the RBL’s policy on a campaign it claims has “become highly politicised”.
The letter states: “Members are of course free to attend these parades in a personal capacity. However, this issue has become highly politicised and as a strictly non-partisan organisation, we would like to remind Legion members that under no circumstances should they participate in these parades/protests as representatives of the Legion or indicate Legion support for them in any way.
“We are also aware that some of these parades are intended to start outside Legion premises. Whilst the Legion cannot prevent parades from starting outside their premises we would be grateful in members could ensure that care is taken not to give any impression, particularly to any media representatives present, that these are Legion-supported events.”
Mr Wickham said he was “truly disappointed” at the RBL decision.
“I do know on social media there has been a backlash on the RBL from veterans and RBL members in NI and over the water. They are not happy at all with the RBL NI views of my group and a number have posted their views of disgust. A large number have stated that they will never go into a RBL club again or support them.
“I believe in the RBL and I know that they do a lot of work to help veterans and in many ways. I do not want this to turn out to be a fall out between my group and the RBL.”
Mr Wickham added: “I would however like them to reconsider their stance in Northern Ireland on this matter as a lot of their members have shown their anger at the stance they have taken, and would ask them to publicly explain how a veterans group before or after a well planned legal march can not be seen to be using one of their branches before or after a march.”
A spokeswoman for the RBL said: “The issue of UK veterans being investigated in relation to their alleged involvement in homicides during the Troubles has become highly politicised, and we are aware of a number of protest parades across Northern Ireland on the matter.
“The Royal British Legion is a strictly non-partisan organisation and as such has advised its members that should they wish to take part in these parades they should do so in their personal capacity and not as a representative of the Legion. It is also necessary to ask that no Legion imagery, associated symbols or venues are used in support of any politicised parades and this is the charity’s stance across the whole of the UK. At no point have Legion members been asked not to support any one particular group on this issue.”