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Assembly split over military perks


David McNarry

David McNarry

David McNarry

Efforts to improve services for members of the armed forces in Northern Ireland have opened deep divisions between unionists and nationalists at the Assembly.

Ulster Unionist David McNarry said his legislation was intended to remove disadvantages facing the military in areas ranging from visits to the dentist to obtaining social housing.

But Sinn Fein tabled a petition of concern arguing it created a "hierarchy of citizenship" by privileging the British Army, meaning the draft law can be vetoed by the nationalist community.

Mr McNarry said: "It is not those who wear the uniform who are at fault - the problem lies with those unwilling to recognise and respect people in a British uniform."

However Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson said existing laws were sufficient to prevent discrimination.

"The bottom line is if the proposed Bill was put into effect it would collide with equality and anti-discrimination law and also institute a hierarchy of citizenship," she said. "I know that some unionists would be happy to have such a hierarchy but those days of second class citizenship are dead and gone."

The consideration stage of the Armed Forces and Veterans Bill was held at Stormont.

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It covered issues such as access to NHS dentistry; the health needs of veterans; getting onto NHS waiting lists; the roll-out of community mental health; affordable homes; adapted social housing and disabled facilities.

Mr McNarry said the Bill would not give anyone special status, queue-jumping priority, extra privileges or specific advantages.

And the Strangford MLA attacked the proposers of the petition of concern, branding it a "shoddy tactic", bringing out into the open serious elements of discrimination and sectarianism.

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