Army bomb disposal experts who regularly put their lives at risk to foil dissident republican attacks should be awarded a General Service Medal.
That is the call from the Ulster Unionist Party’s Doug Beattie, a former Royal Irish Regiment Captain whose bravery in driving the Taleban out of the Afghan town of Gashmir earned him the Military Cross in 2007.
The war hero turned politician spoke out in praise of the army bomb disposal team based at Aldergrove after an attack on a police officer in Londonderry on Wednesday.
Mr Beattie said the army’s Ammunition Technical Officers (ATO) kept Northern Ireland safe from “dissident republican psychopaths”.
His party colleague, Tom Elliott MP, has written to Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon MP, to call for the bomb disposal squad to be awarded the General Service Medal.
Mr Beattie described the attack in Londonderry on Wednesday as “vile and indiscriminate”.
He continued: “It is worth noting that when such incidents occur, it is 321 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Squadron that deploys to deal with them. Based out of Aldergrove they attend incidents like this approximately once a week. Each incident they are called to attend potentially involves deadly devices that could kill or seriously maim.
“It is a high risk role and a specialised skill that helps keep the people of Northern Ireland safe from these dissident republican psychopaths.
“However although they are on this high risk task, as part of Op HELVETIC, they do not receive the medal recognition their predecessors received as part of Op BANNER. The General Service Medal (GSM) is not routinely awarded to those from the military who undertake Military Aid to Civil Power known as MACP.”
He added: “When your time in the military is served and civilian life becomes your normality, it is the medals you were awarded that reflect the hardship and sacrifice you have suffered during your time in the military. They are something to cherish and pass onto your family in later years.”
Mr Beattie added: “We owe these men and women a great debt of gratitude“
An Army spokesperson said: “Our explosives ordnance disposal personnel provide vital support, often in testing circumstances, and operate at the very highest levels of professionalism in order to keep the public safe.
“As with all of our personnel, we carefully consider every request to recognise their extraordinary accomplishments.”