Belfast Telegraph

Veterans to protest at Stormont over 'witch hunt' claims

By Noel McAdam

A campaign group warning against a political 'witch hunt' of former army and security chiefs is marching to Stormont today.

Around 200 military campaigners and their supporters are due to take part in the protest designed to highlight alleged "vindictive" criminal inquiries against ex-soldiers.

It is the first demonstration by the group Justice for Veterans UK in the province - although they have already staged parades in other major UK cities including London, Nottingham and Portsmouth.

They want the UK Government to investigate law enforcement agencies whom they claim are "hunting down" veterans for "so-called crimes" during their service in Northern Ireland. The group will hand in a letter to Stormont - even though the Assembly is dissolved - which will be passed to Ulster Unionist Andy Allen.

They are also protesting about the lack of 'aftercare' for security and military personnel across the country - and want to know why the 'Military Covenant' is not being implemented in Northern Ireland.

Local organiser Anto Wickham said: "I was aware Stormont would be closed when I was planning this march.

"However, this does not stop us marching as we have an MLA giving us support in receiving the letter.

"He will be asked to pass it on to the government on our behalf."

"This is the first march I have staged here at home."

The group claims a "biased approach" towards military personnel has affected members of both the Special Forces and the former Royal Ulster Constabulary during the Troubles.

One cause of concern is that a number of former paratroopers involved in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972 are to be interviewed under caution by the PSNI.

But the group is also angered that the government has set aside millions of pounds to pursue investigations into alleged criminal acts, including war crimes in Iraq, which has angered veterans across the UK.

The group argues the objections of nationalist parties has meant the 'Military Covenant' is being implemented in Great Britain but not here.

The covenant recognises a national "moral obligation" to members of the armed forces and their families, and sets out how they should expect to be treated when accessing essential services.

"It means we have veterans who are having to fly over to the mainland to get help, which is unacceptable," Mr Wickham added.

"We are part of the United Kingdom and we need to implement the covenant for all of our troops."

Belfast Telegraph


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