A Unionist motion brought before Thursday’s meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council calling for the council to “endorse and adopt the Armed Forces Community Covenant”, has been defeated.
The nine UUP and DUP Aldermen voted in favour of the Motion, but 32 Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors voted against it, and at one point during the debate a member of Sinn Fein accused the DUP’s Maurice Devenney of having “a jaundiced view of history”.
Proposing the motion, Alderman Mary Hamilton, on behalf of the UUP, said the city of Londonderry and the Strabane area had a long tradition of association with the Armed Forces community.
“Many currently serve and many more are former service personnel living in our district,” she said
“The Armed Forces Community Covenant is a declaration between the Government and those who have served or serve and their families.
“Its primary application is to ensure that nobody is disadvantaged through their service and does not give special or privileged treatment.”
She said Community Covenants complimented the Armed Forces Covenant at a local level, with the aim to encourage local communities to support their fellow citizens who had served or were serving in the Armed Forces and their families within their own area and aimed to promote understanding and awareness among the public of the issues affecting those of the Forces community.
“By adopting this motion and agreeing to support the Community Covenant, fellow members of our community will have access to central government funding. At present up to £10m annually is set aside to assist these aims. I urge that council enable or service community to assess all help and support possible. I am particularly keen to ensure that those who require assistance in regard to their mental health and wellbeing are not forgotten or ignored.
“It is clear that this has been addressed with bespoke mental health initiatives in England, Scotland and Wales yet this corner of the United Kingdom has all but been forgotten.”
“I trust that this council will support this Covenant that will ease their burden for a significant section of our community. Servicemen and women in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less than their colleagues in the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Her proposal was seconded by her Party colleague, Derek Hussey, who stressed that the money available had already been set aside and would ease pressure on the Health budget.
Speaking in favour of the motion the DUP’s Graham Warke said the first responsibility a government had was to its’ citizens, ensuring their safety and protection.
“This obligation is delivered in many ways, but more often than not, it is the men and women of our nation’s Armed Forces who are expected to put themselves in harm’s way in order to defend others, at home and abroad, from the threat and effects of war, terrorism or humanitarian disaster,” he said.
“Those who serve in the Armed Forces not only work under extreme danger, but often have to contend with separation from family, mental stress and physical injury. These risks and impacts can lead to obvious disadvantage for those who put their lives on the line on behalf of the rest of us.”
He said these issues were recognised by the government and in May 2011 it published the Armed Forces Covenant, which set out the relationship between the Nation, the State and the armed forces and it establishes how they should expect to be treated.
He, too, stressed that the covenant was about removing disadvantages so that armed service personnel, past and present, got the same treatment and access to services as the civilian community.
“At a time when we reflect on the courage and sacrifice of generations past and in particular at 99th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, as well as in conflicts before and since, near and far, it is important we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.
Aligning himself against the motion, Sinn Fein councillor Maoliosa McHugh said the topic had been discussed and rejected at the former Derry City Council and Strabane District Council. Bringing it to the new council “beggars belief” he said, going on to condemn the forces of British occupation and he called on everyone in the council chamber to reject the motion.
Objecting to the motion on grounds of equality, the SDLP’s Shauna Cusack said equality legislation already existed for the Province in the form of Section 75 and as such it was not necessary to provide legislation just for ex-service personnel.
She said the issue was the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.
Sinn Fein’s Paul Gallagher also rejected the Motion and said it was the responsibility of the British Government.