DUP 'must ensure Military Covenant is extended' in new deal with Tories
A commitment by the Government to a Military Covenant underpinned by legislation that applies across the whole of the UK will be the "real test" of the DUP's next confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives, a leading victims' campaigner has said.
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United was speaking after DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds MP revealed that the legal underpinning of a Military Covenant in Northern Ireland would form part of the Northern Ireland party's demands as part of a deal that keeps the Tory Government in power. The current pact between the parties - which gives the Conservatives a working majority of MPs in Parliament - is up for renewal later this year.
North Belfast MP Mr Dodds revealed the Military Covenant would be part of the talks as MPs last week debated amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. Speaking in the Commons, Mr Dodds said: "We are looking for the Government to report on progress on that matter and to ensure there is a legislative underpinning of the Military Covenant."
He added: "Certainly, it is a matter that we will be sitting down to discuss as part of the renewal of confidence and supply, as to how we can actually in detail move these things forward."
Mr Donaldson welcomed Mr Dodds' commitment to the introduction of the Military Covenant in Northern Ireland. "These are encouraging words from Nigel Dodds concerning the need for the Military Covenant to be applied equally across the United Kingdom and the need for a UK-wide definition of victim of terrorism," Mr Donaldson said.
Calling for an end to the "politicisation" of forces veterans, Mr Donaldson said: "Men and women from Northern Ireland have served, and continue to serve, the Crown and UK State within the security forces.
"They do so like their counterparts across England, Scotland and Wales - and just as veterans from across Great Britain have access to the rights contained within the Military Covenant, so too must NI-based veterans enjoy those rights - this is a matter of equality."
Mr Donaldson added: "There must be an end to the politicisation of our veterans and their practical needs across welfare, health and well-being, housing etc."
But the prominent victims' campaigner also warned that the DUP must deliver on this promise of equal treatment for Northern Ireland. "Whilst welcoming Nigel Dodds' remarks, the real test will be that in the expected negotiations the DUP will have, or indeed are having with the Conservative and Unionist Party concerning an extension to the confidence and supply deal, that these issues are not merely asks or appeals - but rather are cast-iron commitments, given with timelines attached."
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 covenant was enshrined in law for the first time in November 2011, requiring the Defence Secretary to make an annual statement on what the Government is doing to support the armed forces.
But a long-running dispute between the DUP and Sinn Fein means no action has been taken here, unlike in Britain.
Mr Donaldson added: "The South-East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) and Innocent Victims United (IVU) initiated the call for a UK-wide definition of victim of terrorism to be developed, and we implore Government to heed that call and set about implementing change, which would have a transformative impact upon our society."