Doug Beattie MC MLA has welcomed the agreement from Mark Lancaster TD VR MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Veterans, Reserves and Personnel, that veterans living in Northern Ireland with mental health issues can be treated at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn. Doug Beattie MC MLA will be addressing the Veterans for Justice march in Portadown on Saturday.
Doug Beattie MC, who is a former soldier and the Ulster Unionist spokesperson on Justice matters, said:
“Recently I challenged the First Ministers to nominate to the Armed Forces Covenant Reference Group (CRG); a cabinet led group that deals with Armed Forces issues and the aspects of the covenant that can prevent serving soldiers, veterans and their families being discriminated against due to their military service. Having initially been told by the First Ministers, in a signed letter, that the covenant has not been adopted in Northern Ireland, I was later told it does apply and was being delivered as far as possible. However the caveat being that Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 prevented nominating to the CRG and the delivery of some veterans’ services.
“The Ulster Unionist Party does not accept this. We were aware of the evidence presented to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee way back in 2013 which stated Section 75 was no bar to the delivery of the covenant in Northern Ireland. This was supported by clear statements from two Armed Forces Ministers and the Ministry of Defence.
“Unfortunately the DUP continue to cite Lord Ashcroft’s 2014 Armed Forces Transition Review as their primary evidence that Section 75 is a bar to implementation. Yet investigation into this Transition Review - which is aimed at those leaving the Armed Forces and returning to civilian life - shows that the primary statement on section 75 was in fact merely to highlight the particular difficulties in this part of the UK and was inserted at the direct request of a very senior member of the DUP. It is now not viewed as a bar to delivery of the covenant and in fact emails seen in recent weeks show the firm that carried out the review for Lord Ashcroft now state “they no longer seek to change Section 75; it was there to indicate the problem only”.
“This now means the Executive should have no barrier to nominating a representative to the CRG in order to represent the interests of serving soldiers, veterans and their families in Northern Ireland. If the First Minister is truly first amongst equals then she should nominate to the CRG without delay and nominate a department responsible for this issue. If the deputy First Minister truly wants to represent all those who live in Northern Ireland without favour then he should find no issue in allowing representation to the CRG. If not, they should make it known to the Northern Ireland electorate why they are not willing to do so and I would therefore call on those responsible for the Armed Forces Covenant to nominate a political representative from outside the Executive.
“To highlight what can be done if there is engagement with the CRG, the Ulster Unionist Party, in an attempt to deliver on their manifesto promises, has sought and received confirmation from Mark Lancaster TD VR MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State and Minister for Defence Veterans, Reserves and Personnel, that veterans referred to the Veterans and Reserves Mental Health Programme (VRMHP) in England by a General Practitioner - and in some exceptional cases self-referral - and who are offered treatment, will normally receive that treatment at the Defence Community Mental Health (DCMH) facility in Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn. This gives vulnerable veterans a safe and secure location close to their family support network where they can receive mental health treatment by individuals who understand their issues and their needs, both due to their service and the security situation in the community they live.
“This is a major agreement and will not cost the Executive one penny but it meets the needs of veterans and stimulates the moral component that has been so lacking here in Northern Ireland. Further agreement on social housing is being sought and can be taken forward by the CRG if the Executive nominates a representative.
“Along with other party colleagues, including Danny Kinahan MP and Tom Elliott MP, we will be bring forward a variety of initiatives which will include writing to all Armed Forces Champions in each of the eleven councils to ensure they know the procedures for referral to the VRMHP and the delivery of treatment at the DCMH. We will also be engaging with the Northern Ireland Veterans’ Forum and the Veterans’ Welfare Service to ensure they inform those who may be eligible for this service.
“As the Executive has already admitted they do not promote the Covenant Fund - £10 million available yearly – we will engage with 38 (Irish) Brigade to ensure this fund is known about and the fund bidding process is advertised. We will also be taking forward a social housing initiative in the coming weeks.
“Yet again the Ulster Unionist Party is moving this debate forward – but this is not a single party issue - I truly hope other parties can stop hiding behind section 75 and put aside party differences and begin to represent our Armed Forces community in an open and transparent manner in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. This is not about advantage, this is about ensuring those who served their country and who are now suffering because of that service are not disadvantaged.”
Notes to Editors:
Doug Beattie MC MLA will be marching with Veterans for Justice in Portadown on Saturday at 14:00 to ask the NI Executive to implement fully the Armed Forces Covenant. Doug Beattie will be giving the address.
Link to the Ulster Unionist Party`s Armed Forces and Veterans policy paper:
Link to Lord Ashcroft`s Veterans` Transition Review