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Widow of Helmand soldier 'embarrassed' by official heel-dragging over aid for NI military veterans


Brenda Hale

Brenda Hale

Brenda Hale

Changes in equality provisions of the Northern Ireland Act to allow UK armed forces' veterans to get better treatment in areas like housing and health has been strongly recommended in a Government report.

Lord Ashcroft, the Prime Minister's Special Adviser, drew up a Veterans' Transitional Review last year and the Armed Forces Covenant is linked to it.

It allows soldiers and other military personnel living abroad to still get points for housing lists and school places in their local areas.

It also offers more access to treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

However, the Northern Ireland Act, which enacts the Good Friday Agreement, specifies that people should be treated equally regardless of factors like religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status, gender or sexual orientation.

Lord Ashcroft called for this to be changed last year and in a follow-up report issued yesterday he slammed the government for not doing so.

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He is supported by Brenda Hale, a DUP MLA and military widow. Her husband of 22 years, Captain Mark Hale, died in Afghanistan's notorious Helmand Province as he tried to save soldiers injured in an improvised roadside device, or IED, in 2009.

The anniversary of their marriage is today. The couple had two children together.

"He was providing security for Afghan elders one week before the election when three of his soldiers were caught up in an IED," Ms Hale said.

"He got two back but when he was going to retrieve the third casualty another soldier went to help him and the three of them were killed by a secondary device."

He had been working on a Phd in Post Traumatic Stress at the time.

In yesterday's report Lord Ashcroft complained that the Government had not accepted his recommendation.

He added: "I understand the difficulties such a change might present the Government, though it does expose a contradiction. The Act has already been amended in favour of Travellers and it does seem to me an anomaly that they get preferential treatment while our veterans do not.

"At the very least it suggests that there is no reason in principle why the Act cannot be changed.

"If the necessary amendments cannot be made for political reasons, other measures need to be put in place to support our veterans in Northern Ireland; it is the one place in the UK where the Armed Forces Covenant has not been applied."

The proposal met local opposition from nationalist parties because it would advantage the armed forces over others.

It also meant a change in the Act which established power sharing in Northern Ireland and which is a treaty obligation with the Irish Republic. However, as Lord Ashcroft pointed out, it has already been amended to allow Travellers access to housing and education waiting lists.

Ms Hale said it had also been relaxed for the PSNI and for teachers in Catholic schools who move with their work.

She said: "As a heart and soul supporter of our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, I am embarrassed and exasperated that the Government has failed to act on this key recommendation".

She revealed that the Forces in Mind Trust has undertaken a study to establish the level of disadvantage faced by veterans who live in Northern Ireland.

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