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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  • michael-mcivor

    Some of the benifits that the brit army and their familys get in england-scotland and wales include priority in accessing NHS healthcare and extra help with social housing compared to other familys-instead of everyone being equal-

    Lets not turn here into an Animal farm where brit army pigs will be better looked after by the system than the rest of us-do some forget about equality in the GFA-

  • tacapall

    “We agree with him that the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland should not become a “political hot potato”.

    Im sure the gay and lesbian community in this part of Ireland would disagree with that statement.

    Will there be any amendments to cater for those republicans and loyalists who believed they were serving their country not being disadvantaged because of that.

    As always Im sure Unionists will cherry pick who can have human rights and who cant, they’ll be falling over themselves to be the first to implement this covenant..

  • Scáth Shéamais

    20. We recommend that HM Government investigates the specific circumstances of veterans coming before the criminal justice system, and considers how their cases can be best dealt with.

    So among the preferential treatment being suggested for the British military is that they’ll receive special consideration if they’re ever up in the courts (even though they’re three time more likely to commit violent crime than their civilian counterparts). This of course would focus on “veterans”, it’s not like a serving British soldier would ever be charged with a crime, especially in here in the North.

  • Zig70

    Second post this Pete, I think I see it. There is a negative vote on any nat politician with this. A convenant is a very British notion. In my experience it draws a very sudden divide between pul and nats when respect for armed forces is floated. Live by the sword, don’t ask my help when it swings back your way. The English seem to have a different view which also makes it awkward for those imposing their law.

  • Pete Baker

    And yet, when NI Deputy First Minster Martin McGuinness was asked by NIO Minister Mike Penning that, in relation to implementing the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland,

    “I may need your help publicly on this”

    The committee was told that McGuinness replied “you have got it“.

    Was McGuinness lying?

    Did he not understand the question?

  • Zig70

    I would think that the only person to call him on it is you Pete. So he’s safe enough for now. 🙂

  • Alias

    The Shinners will be required to bring their community to accept the legitimacy of Her Majesty’s defence forces just as they were required to bring their community to accept the legitimacy her security services. That’s the logical outworking of the normalisation agenda.

    It’s far too early to startle the sheep with that inevitability, however, so it’ll be baby or lamb steps all the way. The Shinner shepherds are well able to lead the sheep wherever their handlers direct them to go – and have previously invited a member of Her Majesty’s defence forces to address their party conference to that aim. The trick with that sleight of hand was to get the sheep to focus on the fact that member of Her Majesty’s defence forces was a Protestant Chaplain who had rather nice things to say about the non-sectarian Shinners so the baby step could be sold to the sheep as ‘outreach’ rather than the wee sheep being ‘normalised’ toward the British army.

  • UserAinm

    Alias, this is not your Daddy’s Ulster. Change is afoot and nature teaches us what happens to those at the back of the herd who try and hold it back.

  • Alias

    Given that he’s Hungarian and thinks anywhere north of Balbriggan is Bandit County, he’d probably be delighted that with the latest “change” with Marty is so willing to help the British NIO minister in selling the Armed Forces Covenant to his particular tribe in Northern Ireland.

    But that’s neither here nor there: the issue is whether or not Marty has a viable strategy (beyond not mentioning or opposing it) to sell it to the sheep at this early stage or whether he regrets his eagerness to please the British NIO minister and said minister’s lack of discretion…

  • I don’t understand the problem here. The British government has passed legislation affording certain privileges to members of the armed forces as an inducement to recruitment. Those privileges accrue regardless of ethnic background. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the British government in London.

    Saying that it is discriminatory and therefore shouldn’t be implemented is like saying that Indian or white veterans leaving on Indian reservations (federal land) shouldn’t receive veterans benefits because it might offend the sensibilities of militant Indians.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The one bright spark in all of this is we can be (almost) certain that the support of the DUP ministers for this is entirely ideological and is not an expression of vested interests attempting to gain preferential treatment for family members or parents.

    Over on the older “Military Covenant” thread on Slugger I tried over a number of postings to discover if there is any connection between any member whatsoever of the DUP and anyone who ever, in any capacity, fought for “their country”! I quote:

    “ ‘Can anyone clarify for me whether Peter Robinson actually had a grandfather or a great grandfather at Theipval on 1st July 1916?’ Or any of the other grandees of the DUP? I really would like to know.

    As Peter himself has told us there was ‘barely a family who would have been untouched by what happened and it is really important that they reflect and remember’, I’m sure that at least one party member must have had someone there. I know that Ian Paisley’s influential political mentor Richard Dale Winnett Harrison (interesting career….) was in uniform on the home front at the time, but perhaps Auld Ian’s da was at the front.”

    As a child I had numerious N.I. politicians who were highly prominant at post-war 11th November commemorations, but who had taken full advantage of the non-conscription policy during World War II to avoid actually having to fight against Hitler. During that war volunteers from the Republic by 1944 totalled 1261 more than volunteers from Northern Ireland, despite the policy of neutrality. And after that war the DUP’s “Daddy’s Ulster” was only too happy to tell anyone who had been fool enough to fight to stop bothering them about any sort of help for jobs and housing.

  • cynic2

    It’s a make of how desperate politics here are when SF have to try and go back 100 years to whose grandfather fought / didn’t fight in a single battle for grounds to track a politician

    As for the covenant I think Westminster should be quite clear. The
    nI Block is provided on the assumption that NI adheres to some standards. If the Executive don’t comply with the Covenant then the block should be cut by whatever it takes to implement it separately here

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, cynic2, alas I am not, nor have I ever been a member of Sinn Fein! ( Or the Communist Party.) My own grandfather fought, and I mean fought, at Thiepval as an officer while the ancestors of these coat riders were wrapping themselves in a safe glow of patriotic passion on the home front!

    I should slightly correct my earlier statement, “As a child I had numerious N.I. politicians who were highly prominant at post-war 11th November commemorations— pointed out to me by men who actually fought in both wars, some from the Republic—”

    The safe and very public “worship” of the Somme and the British armed forces by men whose family members cowered behind the non-conscription concession of Irish neutrality sickens me, very much a “dancing on the graves of the dead” stance. I cannot begin to imagine the mentality of those who can so shamelessly smear themselves with the very real blood of others for votes.

    But I fully agree with you that Westminster’s provision of funds with which our “One party rule in two semi-independant fiefdoms” bribes their electors should come to an end. And there are many, many other standards our “masters” should come up to, such as actually developing an economy that is not based on bribing multinationals to locate here (for a year or two) rather than China, and protecting our one world heritage site.

  • Master McGrath

    This is never not going to be a political hot potato.
    But lets not start off by bandying half truths or simply wrong things around as if they were facts.
    Ex-service personnel do not simply jump the queue for services like health, housing etc.
    They get priority treatment only where the condition or disability is a direct result of their service – all other conditions mean they are in the same queue as everyone else.
    If someone has limb loss or PTSD, for example, they can claim priority for those conditions BUT not if they develop
    respiratory conditions as a result of smoking.
    The Community Covenant makes it clear that the intention is to ensure that ex-service personnel are not disadvantaged in any way by their service – not that they are automatically placed at the top of the list or first for treatment.
    One example is in housing where ex-service families who have served in a variety of different places throughout the world or within the UK and wish to settle in a particular area and find themselves without any ‘points’ they can claim in their application for housing.
    They are disadvantaged wherever they try to make application as they have no points based on residence in a particular area.
    Local Authorities which sign up to the Covenant can then make adjustments to their letting policies to allow for the inclusion of such people. As can NHS areas.
    Another canard is the notion that ex-service members are more likely to end up in jail.
    In Scotland there are just 180 ex-service prisoners currently locked up!!! Out of a prison population of 7890!!! (SPS figures published 21 June 2013).
    There are concerns about the number of ex-service personnel who are involved in offending where an element of violence is present, but that is a separate issues that needs attention.
    Normalisation means that adjustments have to be made in attitudes on both sides and an understanding that this is an equality issue for all throughout the UK has to be accepted by everyone in NI.
    It is entirely wrong that citizens living in NI should be disadvantaged in equality terms in any way from the rest of the citizens in the UK.

  • cynic2

    Seaan

    Then I do apologize for making unwarranted assumptions and must say that I agree with your clarified position above. Sorry!

  • cynic2

    Ulsterainm

    “Change is afoot” I agree completely Republicans have signed up to remain ion the UK because that’s all on offer. they have been given many concessions as a result but they also need to make other concessions themselves. This is one of them…..just like the UK benefits system, UK pensions etc etc

  • michael-mcivor

    Master McGrath-

    ” Ex-service personnel do not simply jump the queue ”

    Service and x service personnel and their familys do in england-scotland and wales-what service did their familys perform for being allowed first in line-are you happy to allow brit army grunts and their familys to push your own family to the back of the queue-very few would allow that-

    Maybe the brit army wants to bring that law in here now because the RIR no longer serves in the 6 counties-but they would still get better treatment than the rest of us if it was made law-

  • Master McGrath

    m-mcv

    They do not jump the queue as I pointed out in my previous and I am certainly of the opinion that the same system that operates in Scotland, England and Wales should apply equally to the rest of the UK, that is Northern Ireland – anything else falls at the hurdle of equality and fairness.
    It is not the families that benefit from the NHS but as families they benefit by having the disadvantage that their service entailed set aside to level the playing field for them.
    I really don’t see where ‘first in line’ notion comes from at all.

  • Seamuscamp

    The issue is largely artificial. The representative of the British Legion said:
    “I cannot point to a single case, in all the cases we have dealt with in our time, where I can say for sure that the individual would have been better treated had they been living elsewhere in the United Kingdom.”
    The representative of SSAFA said he “did not see huge disadvantages to the Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland by not having the Covenant formally implemented.”

    Many representations to the Committee (including the Regimental Association of the RIR) claimed that S 75 of the NI Act posed a legal barrier to preferential treatment – as might also be the case under human rights legislation elsewhere in the UK, according to the Committee.

    Housing would appear to be a particular potential problem as the Housing Executive operates the Common Selection Scheme which does not allow flexibility. “In practice, however, this does not appear to be a problem. Brigadier Rob Thomson told us that 38 (Irish) Brigade had connections with the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland so that particular issues could be addressed and people signposted to the most appropriate place. Rear Admiral Williams, Defence Services Secretary with the MoD, told us: “The normal places I would look for evidence of a real problem—the service families federations and service charities—do not seem to indicate the size of the problem you might expect.””

    It does seem strange that neither the FM or the DFM made a direct contribution. And is anyone surprised that such disinterested parties as Poots and McCausland claim that themuns are a problem?

    One lesson to be mindful of is, of course, that headlines sometimes attract more attention than what was actually said. Headline writers have noses for negativity. So read the original – PB has given the link above