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MLA raps medal 'snub' to bomb disposal unit

Doug Beattie

A war hero MLA has called for bomb disposal experts in Northern Ireland to be honoured with a medal.

Doug Beattie said the Army's explosives experts deserved the recognition for their service in a challenging and dangerous environment.

The Belfast Telegraph reported in November that PSNI officers who have served five years will be eligible for a service medal.

Mr Beattie, who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery during his service in Afghanistan, said a similar honour should apply to those tasked with making explosive devices safe.

He said: "Week after week I see images on our screens and read stories in newspapers and on social media of terrorist incidents involving some kind of explosives.

"Some are hoaxes, some are non-viable devices but some, and an increasing number, are deadly improvised explosive devices that, if they were to explode, would cause death and injury to anyone that may get in the way, be they the intended target or not."

Mr Beattie said the courage of Army personnel in responding to each incident alongside police merited formal recognition.

"Every time the police respond to these IED incidents, be they a hoax or not, they are accompanied by the British Army," he added.

"This is in the form of an Explosive Ordnance Detachment (EOD) including an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO), and at times a Royal Engineers Search Team, who respond with equal professionalism and courage.

"They do so 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

During the Troubles, 23 Army bomb disposal officers were killed while attempting to defuse explosive devices.

Hundreds of awards for gallantry were also conferred on individual officers.

Mr Beattie said he had been "disappointed" to learn that there are no plans to honour Army bomb disposals experts for what he described as their extraordinary dedication to duty.

"I was extremely disappointed, having written to the Minister for the Armed Forces, to receive word back that these young men and women who we owe so much for keeping all communities safe, will not receive any form of medallic recognition," he added.

"It is fair to say that I may be biased on this issue.

"But it is also fair to say I want to ensure soldiers are recognised for their work, for the hours spent in danger, for the family events missed, for the long evenings away from home, for giving so much of themselves in the service of their country with little or no long-term recognition.

"I believe this is a poor decision by the MoD and I hope they will reconsider the award of an Operational Service Medal in the future."

The former soldier told the Belfast Telegraph last night that the Ministry of Defence did not offer any explanation for the decision not to honour the Army explosives experts.

"They didn't really give a reason," he added. "They just said the operation does not warrant a medal."

Mr Beattie said he would not be accepting this answer as final.

He indicated that he would be asking former UUP leader Lord Empey to raise the matter in the House of Lords at Westminster.

In November it emerged that PSNI officers would be awarded with a new service medal in recognition of their work while under a severe terror threat.

The medal will be given to serving and retired police officers who have completed five years' service from February 25, 2009 - the date the terrorist threat level here was raised to severe.

Belfast Telegraph