'Vital' to assess 'shortfalls'
More must be done to make sure members of the armed forces in Northern Ireland are not disadvantaged, a new report has claimed.
Shortfalls in provision of healthcare, housing and education should be identified and tackled according to the paper published by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster.
Calls were also made for the Stormont Executive to fully implement the 2011 Armed Forces Covenant which outlines the state's moral obligation to members of the military and sets the standards for the level of service veterans and their families can expect.
Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, who chairs of the Commons committee, said: "We absolutely support the principle that members of the armed forces and their families must not be disadvantaged by their service to their country and all that it entails.
"This means that in some cases, special consideration should be given to reflect the special demands and sacrifices of service. Of course we recognise that the political and legal situation in Northern Ireland makes issues relating to the armed forces delicate and potentially contentious, but this should not mean that the armed forces community in Northern Ireland is disadvantaged."
An inquiry into the implementation of the Covenant in Northern Ireland was launched by the select committee - which includes MPs Naomi Long, Ian Paisley and Alistair McDonnell - last December.
It found specific benefits such as improved access to IVF treatment, priority in accessing NHS healthcare, additional priority in accessing social housing and certain educational entitlements were available for members of the military living elsewhere in the UK but not in Northern Ireland.
Detailed reports outlining support offered to the armed forces community and how the Covenant was being implemented have been published by the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments as well as the Welsh Assembly but, as yet, no such report has been produced by the Northern Ireland Executive.
The committee also called for closer engagement between the UK Government and Northern Ireland Executive on support for the armed forces community.
Mr Robertson added: "We welcome the work by the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence to assess any shortfall in Covenant provision in Northern Ireland. It is vital that any such shortfalls are addressed, whether this is by the Northern Ireland Executive or HM Government. The MoD must respond to any identified needs of the Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland, and report on how these will be met."