Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Sinn Fein is rapped over stalling of Armed Forces Covenant

A government minister has accused Sinn Fein-dominated councils of hampering support for the armed forces in Northern Ireland.

Mark Francois MP said that implementing the Armed Forces Covenant was proving to be “a particular challenge” in the province, which he suggested was lagging behind the other devolved nations.

Mr Francois, the Veterans Minister, made the comments to the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee, which was examining how much support is offered in Wales.

Asked how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be ranked in terms of the successful implementation of the covenant, which was enshrined in law a year ago, he said: “We have a particular challenge in Northern Ireland because of some of the Sinn Fein-run authorities' views on the covenant and what it represents.

“In Northern Ireland, this is particularly sensitive and difficult, so if you're talking about a scorecard we would have to take that into account.”

The military covenant represents Britain's duty of care to its armed forces, in return for the sacrifices made in the line of duty.

The coalition Government enshrined the covenant in law for the first time, which requires the Defence Secretary to make an annual statement on what the Government is doing to support the armed forces.

This week Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to meet members of the DUP to discuss the issues around the covenant in Northern Ireland.

Responding to a question from the DUP's Jim Shannon, the Prime Minister said: “It is something I have spoken about with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. I know that there are issues about its implementation, but I hope that it can be done.”

Another DUP MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, has attempted to change the law so that all the devolved nations would be required to make their own report on the covenant.

Yesterday Mr Donaldson said the issues were not related to Mr Francois' point about Sinn Fein councils. He said he did not want to go into detail ahead of the meeting with the Mr Cameron, adding: “All we are saying at this stage is that we have concerns about the need for full implementation of the covenant and are meeting to discuss these concerns.”

Background

The Armed Forces Covenant dates back hundreds of years as an unspoken pact between the country and the forces. It was finally written down in 2000, stating that soldiers can expect fair treatment in return for the sacrifices expected of them. It was enshrined in law for the first time in November 2011.

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