NI Affairs Committee: “We understand the sensitivities of this issue for some members of the Executive…”

As the BBC reports, the UK House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has published their report on the Implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.  Among the recommendations noted by the BBC

The committee chair, MP Laurence Robertson, said the report highlighted the need for those who serve the country not being disadvantaged because of that.

He said while the special political and legal situation in Northern Ireland made the situation potentially contentious, that should not mean any disadvantage for the armed forces community living here.

The committee has called on the Executive to appoint a minister to sit on the national steering group overseeing implementation of the covenant which designed to show government recognition of the particular pressures of active service and its aftermath.

And, from the NI Affairs Committee report’s Conclusions and recommendations

Barriers to implementation in Northern Ireland

3.  We accept that the different political and legal situation in Northern Ireland, compared to Great Britain, makes issues relating to the Armed Forces delicate and potentially contentious. However, this should not mean that the Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland should be disadvantaged either compared with other groups there, or when compared to that community elsewhere in the UK, beyond that variation which would be expected under normal devolution. (Paragraph 12)

4.  Serious concerns have been raised that the equality framework in Northern Ireland, particularly section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, is a barrier to the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant. We have been reassured that the Northern Ireland equality framework does not create a greater barrier to implementation of the Covenant in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the UK. It is important this is understood by those involved in the delivery of services to the Armed Forces Community. (Paragraph 22)

5.  We were encouraged to hear that the Equality Commission is in discussion with Northern Ireland departments on this matter. We believe that those bodies or groups that decline to implement any aspect of the Covenant on the basis of section 75 should consider carefully whether they are truly upholding the aims of equality legislation in potentially or actually causing disadvantage to the Armed Forces Community, including partners and children, compared to other groups in society. (Paragraph 23)

6.  We understand the sensitivities of this issue for some members of the Executive, but we were nonetheless very disappointed that the First Minister and deputy First Minister felt unable to give evidence to us as part of our inquiry. We particularly wanted to question them about the contribution of the Northern Ireland Executive to the Annual Report on the Armed Forces Covenant, representation for Northern Ireland on the Covenant Reference Group, and relationships between the Executive and HM Government. We note, however, that their reply to our invitation said that Mr Poots and Mr McCausland gave evidence on behalf of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. (Paragraph 30) [added emphasis]

7.  We were encouraged to hear that the Minister of State for Northern Ireland had met with the political leaders of the main parties in Northern Ireland to discuss the Armed Forces Covenant. We agree with him that the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland should not become a “political hot potato”. (Paragraph 31) [added emphasis again]

Indeed.  But don’t worry, they have the promised public support of the Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness…

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