Ulster Unionists have voiced their sadness at the decision of the Royal British Legion’s Board of Trustees to close Bennet House in Portrush as part of the organisation’s ‘Strategic Review.’
Doug Beattie MC MLA said:
“The news that the Royal British Legion’s Board of Trustees has decided that Bennet House in Portrush is to close will be greeted with dismay and sadness by many people throughout Northern Ireland and beyond, and particularly by many veterans and their families.
“The Ulster Unionist Party firmly believed that Bennet House had a vital role to play in the current and future service provision in Northern Ireland and its closure will have a profound and far-reaching impact for the service community in Northern Ireland.
“There is no doubt many veterans in Northern Ireland feel forgotten by both the MOD and now the RBL. Bennet House not only provided much needed respite for veterans and their families, it gave a sense that they would always be supported when times get tough. This closure decision will only serve to compound the feeling of abandonment within the service community in Northern Ireland and it is difficult to view it any other way.
“In discussions with the Director General of the RBL, he cited the fact that monies were needed for RBL Care Homes, but it is simply a fact that these care homes do not exist in Northern Ireland. It is therefore becoming difficult to see what the RBL will now do with the £1.5million raised in Northern Ireland as part of the annual Poppy Appeal.
“In spite of today’s disappointment, we will continue to engage with the Royal British Legion to ensure the needs of the service community in Northern Ireland are raised at the highest level. We are due to meet again with the RBL very shortly and will not hesitate to take that opportunity to press the case for Bennet House.”
Portrush Ulster Unionist Councillor Norman Hillis said:
“Bennet House has been a part of the fabric of Portrush for decades and a feature of the Lansdowne Terrace area.
“I note that the RBL’s Board of Trustees has decided ‘to temporarily utilise the break centre building, Bennet House, in Portrush for use by the charity’s Poppy Club, local community and other charities to help continue supporting beneficiaries in the area’ and that ‘the building will be available for non-residential activity until July 2020, when the Legion’s service provision in Northern Ireland will be re-evaluated using existing research and a new report due to be published by Queen’s University Belfast.’
“Unless this research and new report persuades the Royal British Legion to reverse its closure decision, it will be of little comfort to the many veterans and their families who have been welcomed to Portrush over the decades, for much needed breaks.
“This is indeed a sad day for Portrush and for veterans in Northern Ireland.”