Veterans march to Stormont for fair deal from politicians

The veterans are concerned with the litigation culture around British 'military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan
The veterans are concerned with the litigation culture around British 'military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan

Military veterans should not face unnecessary hardships as a result of their service, a rally in east Belfast will hear on Saturday.

Around 200 veterans and supporters are expected to take part in a protest march from Dundondald to Parliament Buildings at Stormont – where a letter calling for political action will be read.

UK troops prepare for deployment in Afghanistan

UK troops prepare for deployment in Afghanistan

Organised by Veterans For Justice UK, the protest is part of a wider campaign demanding that no one should be disadvantaged when accessing public services or healthcare as a result of their military service, and that there should be increased protection from legal action being taken against combat troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

March organiser Anto Wickham said: “The UK Government, despite having been shamed into action, is still not doing enough to care for veterans.

“Here in Northern Ireland progress [on additional support] is being blocked by a couple of parties who do not want to implement the Military Covenant.

“It means we have veterans who are having to fly over to the mainland to get help, which is unacceptable.”

The Military Covenant has been implemented in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland.

The covenant recognises that the whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the armed forces and their families, and sets out how they should expect to be treated when accessing essential services.

Mr Wickham said: “We are part of the United Kingdom and we need to implement the covenant for all of our troops.”

The Royal Irish veteran said a growth in the litigation culture around military campaigns is also a major concern.

Last October, it was revealed that UK taxpayers are facing a bill of almost £150 million to defend more than 2,000 compensation claims against British soldiers for allegedly breaching the “human rights” of enemy fighters.

Suspected Taliban bomb-makers captured by British soldiers during gun battles are among those who are taking action against the UK Government.

Mr Wickham said he strongly disagreed with UK lawyers “inviting” potential victims to come forward.

“It’s not an amnesty we are after. We serve to keep the rule of law and we serve within the law. Where soldiers have broken the law they have been dealt with severely, not only by the civil courts but also by the military, in Cyprus for example, and it is the same here [in Northern Ireland]. If soldiers broke the law, and the evidence is there, then they have to answer.”

Mr Wickham added: “This bias is not only against regular forces, but also extends to operations by special forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary during Operation Banner.

“Whilst we do not wish to comment on a specific ‘live’ case, we cannot ignore the ongoing vindictive pursuit of UK veterans for alleged actions in a series of incidents during the Troubles.”

Saturday’s march will form up at Dunlady park and ride car park in Dundonald before making its way to Stormont at 11am. The rally is expected to disperse at Stormont around 12.30pm.