Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

SF criticised after opposing council help for veterans

Sinn Fein has been accused of living in the past after it objected to Derry City Council agreeing to the appointment of a British armed forces advocate.

In a tense committee meeting of the nationalist-dominated local authority on Thursday, SDLP leader on the council Gerard Diver said republicans still have “a problem with this group”.

In its defence, Sinn Fein said it was only concerned with the legality of appointing an advocate for any organisation.

Mr Diver said that was simply a “smokescreen”.

He said: “The British Army had not always covered itself in glory but its members who are from this city deserve to be helped.

“This is not 1982 or 1992, we have moved on and the people who have a problem here need to ask themselves if they are really inclusive.”

A deputation from the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee briefed the council’s policy and resources committee about what the organisation did on behalf of soldiers and veterans and their families.

The council heard that of the 1.8million people living in Northern Ireland, 3,745 were in receipt of an Army pension and that there were 665 armed forces widows or widowers which the group helped.

John Steward from the Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee asked the council to consider appointing an advocate who would work on behalf of veterans living in Derry and said that there had already been presentations to other councils, including Limavady, which agreed to appoint its own advocate.

The DUP's Joe Millar welcomed the deputation and added: “I think it needs to be said, in light of the recent publicity this has attracted, that even though everyone here may not be comfortable or agree with this group, in the past there have been other groups here that we did not agree or were comfortable with, but this is a public forum and this group has a right to be here and be heard.”

Sinn Fein councillor Barney O'Hagan expressed a very different view.

He said: “Setting aside the sensitivities when talking about the British Army, to elevate any group above another would leave the council open to more requests from a variety of groups making requests.

“We will not support your request, but acknowledge it.”

In a recorded vote of seven for and two against, the committee agreed that the council should appoint an advocate to the veterans’ body.

The decision will go for ratification before the full council.

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