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Outrage as Northern Ireland bomb disposal heroes denied bravery medal

By Allan Preston

Bomb disposal officers in Northern Ireland have reportedly been denied a medal for bravery by the Cabinet Office, with the snub branded an "injustice" by one soldier.

A formal request by Northern Ireland's most senior Army officer, Brigadier Andrew Rowe, to award Ammunition Technical Officers In Northern Ireland a General Service Medal was rejected by the Cabinet Office.

"Denying them an operational service medal is pure politics and a real injustice.

"They have been told to just suck it up," a senior army source told The Sun.

On Sunday, the Ministry of Defence refused to deny that the snub had taken place.

"As with all of our personnel, we carefully consider every request to recognise their extraordinary accomplishments," an MoD spokesperson told the newspaper.

Last year the Belfast Telegraph reported that security forces here were dealing with a terrorist bomb alert every week.

Between January and August 2016, police and Army bomb disposal teams were called out to 39 bombing incidents.

Of those call-outs, 19 (49%) were classified as "credible threats" with the remainder hoax calls. In March, prison officer Adrian Ismay died from his injuries after a bomb exploded under his van in east Belfast

The Belfast Telegraph contacted a separate Army source who said there were technical reasons as to why the medal couldn't be awarded to bomb disposal officers here.

The main issue was that EOD (Explosive Ordnance) officers were no longer classed as "on operations" after Operation Banner - the 38 year military operation started during the Troubles - ended in 2007.

At present, the officers would be classified in the same category as those who attended bomb alerts in Great Britain, for which no campaign medal exists.

Ulster Unionist and former soldier Doug Beattie insisted that an exception should be made for EOD officers in Northern Ireland and described the Whitehall decision as "drastically wrong". He explained that although Operation Banner had ended, the officers were still part of a live operation named Op Helvetic, which provides residual military support to the PSNI.

"They still face incredible danger when they deploy," Mr Beattie said.

He added: "The argument that they're doing bomb disposal, such as somebody in Wales would if they found a World War Two bomb for example, is not the same when you have an organisation like dissident republicans targeting them on a day to day basis.

"It's quite clear they should get a General Service Medal, even if the label on it had to be Military Aid to a Civil Power (MACP)."

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