'Northern Ireland only region in UK dragging its heels over the Armed Forces Covenant'
Published 12/11/2013 | 14:07
This week millions of people across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth marked Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.
In Northern Ireland it is particularly poignant for many people who remember loved ones lost to terrorism.
The sacrifice of our servicemen and women in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as 25-year-old Channing Day, has made Remembrance all the more relevant.
Public support for the Armed Forces across the UK is incredibly high and there is almost universal support for the Armed Forces Covenant. The Covenant attempts to "redress the disadvantages that the armed forces community faces in comparison to other citizens and to recognise the sacrifices that they have made".
It was published in May 2011 and, according to the MoD website, Government, partner charities and the devolved administrations “have been very busy” delivering it.
Sadly, one devolved administration, Northern Ireland, has been found lacking with regards to implementing the Covenant.
Former NIO Minister Mike Penning told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in June that members of the Stormont Executive failed to even respond to an invitation to discuss how to help veterans and their families. Mr Penning said he didn’t know why this was.
The reason, however, had emerged when Nelson McCausland and Edwin Poots appeared before the committee the previous month to give evidence at a session which passed below the news radar.
David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon, asked why the Northern Ireland Executive didn’t respond to the Ministry of Defence’s request for a contribution to the annual report on the implementation of the Covenant here.
As a result he learned that there was “no formal or informal discussion” at the Executive about the Covenant because, as Edwin Poots put it, “It requires the agreement of both the First Minister and the deputy First Minister before a matter comes to the Executive’s table, so for example if, on this issue, the deputy First Minister had refused to put it on the agenda, it would not have been on the agenda.”
Asked if there was likely to be a contribution to this year’s report Nelson McCausland said: “I have no knowledge of that but I would not necessarily anticipate any change, unfortunately.”
It’s evident, therefore, that Belfast Agreement style devolution won’t deliver for our Armed Forces because Sinn Fein is calling the shots at the Executive table.