Government should give NI veterans better deal: Lord Ashcroft

Brenda Hale MLA with Lord Ashcroft at the launch of the Veterans' Transition Review in London
Brenda Hale MLA with Lord Ashcroft at the launch of the Veterans' Transition Review in London

Members of the Armed Forces and veterans in Northern Ireland will continue to be disadvantaged while trying to access local services due to government inaction, according to a major report.

In his ‘Veterans’ Transition Review: Follow-up report July 2015,’ Lord Ashcroft said the Armed Forces Covenant should be introduced in the Province to end the anomaly.

I am embarrassed and exasperated that the Government has failed to act on this key recommendation

Brenda Hale MLA

Its introduction would require Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act – designed to promote ‘equality of opportunity’ – to be amended.

At present, the Act makes it an offence to discriminate against someone based on several named factors, including religion, age, disability and sexual orientation.”

Under Lord Ashcroft’s proposals, that list would be amended “to enable service leavers and veterans to receive the recognition and provision they deserve,” bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

In his update report published on Friday, the Conservative peer said: “The Act has already been amended in favour of Travellers and it does seem to me an anomaly that they get preferential treatment while our veterans do not.

“At the very least, it suggests that there is no reason in principle why the Act cannot be changed. If the necessary amendments cannot be made for political reasons, other measures need to be put in place to support our veterans in Northern Ireland; it is the one place in the UK where the Armed Forces Covenant has not been applied and veterans are at a disadvantage.”

DUP MLA Brenda Hale was one of those consulted by Lord Ashcroft as he compiled his report. She said the failure of the government to make the necessary amendments to the legislation has left her “embarrassed and exasperated”.

The Lagan Valley MLA said: “As Lord Ashcroft has identified, section 75 has been amended previously in favour of Travellers. Therefore the problem is not that there is no precedent for this piece of legislation being amended.

“Our veterans deserve to get the benefits of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland and cannot until this legislative change is made in the House of Commons.

“As a heart and soul supporter of our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, I am embarrassed and exasperated that the Government has failed to act on this key recommendation.”

Mrs Hale added: “The Forces in Mind Trust has undertaken a study to establish the level of disadvantage faced by our veterans because they live in Northern Ireland. I look forward to that study concluding and that being a further incentive for the Government to act.”

• The two main principles of the Armed Forces Covenant are:

1. “The Armed Forces Community should not face disadvantage in the provision of public and commercial services.”

2. “Special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.”

One of the practical applications of the Covenant is that if an armed services family is posted to a new area halfway through a school term, the local school is allowed to go over their maximum permitted class size to accommodate service children.