Speaking on Monday, it was put to Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy that recent comments from his party appear to show it accepts the Armed Forces Covenant as part of the cultural package of the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) agreement, which also includes Irish Language legislation.
Mr Murphy responded that the covenant has been in place for years, but was challenged by the BBC that it is not implemented the same way in NI as in GB. But he strongly disagreed.
“Well it is because it is essentially about equal access to services to make sure people aren’t discriminated against,” he responded.
His party believes, he said, that people “do have” equal access to public services regardless of their profession. He added: “And that has been in place in the north for years.”
The BBC presenter challenged him as to whether his party accepts the full roll out of the military covenant in NI, as set out in the NDNA package.
He replied: “We believe in equality and equality of access to services and we don’t wish to discriminate against anyone regardless of their profession and that is the practise that we have adopted for many years working in the Executive.”
But Robert McCartney, chairman of Ards veterans charity Beyond the Battlefield, said there were many aspects of the Covenant that are not properly implemented in NI.
“Unlike GB, when a soldier from NI leaves the forces they are automatically deemed to have made themselves intentionally homeless and so they are given no points in order to access housing provision,” he said. “In GB, by contrast, they are given priority points for housing because they have served their country.
“Also, if a soldier from NI moves from one health trust area to another or goes to serve overseas, they automatically lose any position they might have on a hospital waiting list. And if they are injured while serving overseas they go to the bottom of the list when they come home to NI. None of that happens in GB.”
In GB, he added, many large businesses and local councils openly sign up to the Covenant, offering to employ veterans, but in NI none of that can openly happen because businesses and councils are concerned about the security risk of doing so, he added.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Implementing the Armed Forces Covenant is an NDNA commitment. Sinn Fein cannot cherry pick. It will be implemented in Northern Ireland. Veterans come from all parts of our community and they deserve to have the support provided by the Armed Forces Covenant just the same as veterans in other parts of the UK.”
He added that there is no legislation relating to the Irish Language going through Westminster as yet but that an Armed Forces Covenant Bill, which includes NI, has begun its legislative path in the House of Lords and will put the covenant on a formal statutory footing in NI for the first time.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie MC MLA said: “The Armed Forces Covenant was first instigated throughout the whole of the United Kingdom in June 2011. Since that time multiple sporting clubs, including the GAA, community and voluntary organisations and those supporting mental health issues linked to the armed forces in Northern Ireland have received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the covenant fund with Northern Ireland represented at the Armed Forces Reference Group which sets the strategic direction of funding’”
“The Armed Forces remains a non-devolved issue and the Government of the United Kingdom has introduced a Bill into Westminster to amend the Armed Forces Act 2006 to strengthen the covenant through all regions of the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland. This is likely to complete its passage and receive royal assent by the autumn. We will be proactively monitoring and assessing the effect this legislation has in delivering better outcomes for the service community in Northern Ireland”
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