Councillors backed a motion proposed by Carrickfergus DUP councillor Alderman Billy Ashe MBE to commend the contributions made by men and women from Northern Ireland who served in the United Kingdom forces.
The motion continued: “We consider it essential to repay the debt to those who have served, and to that end, this council prepares without delay an action plan for addressing Armed Forces veterans’ needs.”
But Sinn Fein Councillor Ian Friary said: “Nationalists and Republicans have a totally different view of the British Army to Unionists.
“I see this motion as being deliberately provocative – Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy, plastic bullets, ‘shoot to kill’. Soldiers should not get special treatment above other members of the public.”
Ald Ashe highlighted difficulties that can be experienced by veterans returning to civilian life such as getting a home in an area where they feel safe and finding employment, even more so, he stressed for those returning from war zones with injury.
Ald Ashe said: “I believe we as a community have a duty to these brave men and women and their families.
“Many of whom, despite serving you and me, have been marginalised and left vulnerable. I believe they deserve more.”
Cllr Cheryl Johnston added: “I think it is essential we as a council commit to establishing an action plan to addressing veterans’ needs.”
She stressed that the council should begin to “actively promote” services available to help and support veterans.
Larne Lough DUP councillor Alderman Paul Reid said that veterans serve because they “want to make a difference”.
“I am somewhat saddened that politics have got in the way of someone doing a job. This is one of the most important that we do not forget those who served with pride, honour and dignity. They served because they wanted to make a difference.
“Unlike the Americans, we are not very good at looking after our heroes.
“Each one of them deserves our congratulations. They made a difference and we have a duty of care to them to ensure they get the proper recognition that they deserve.”
Carrickfergus DUP Councillor John McDermott outlined a long family history in the serving forces.
He went on to say: “I think it somewhat insulting when I hear Cllr Friary lambasting the British Army for actions that were taken that should have been included in this motion where he is talking about the British Army killing people.
“What Cllr Friary fails to notice is that the majority of police officers killed in Northern Ireland in the conflict were killed by the IRA and the majority of Catholics in certain areas of Northern Ireland killed during the conflict were killed by the Provisional IRA, who at that time, were what they like to call inextricably linked to Sinn Fein, so I will not be taking lectures from anybody, including Sinn Fein councillors, on who murdered who.
“The one thing the British Army really did not do, they did not take their victims and leave them on Shellinghill Beach and leave a family of what was seven or nine children without parents.
“You can say a lot of bad things about the Army but there are certain things they did not do.”
Knockagh Alliance councillor Alderman Noel Williams said: “My group is supportive of this motion. We have no doubt the country has a debt to veterans. I am open for opportunities to support veterans.
“It is wonderful that we have an Armed Forces Charter and that will be moved forward apace now.”
Ald Williams asked for a “tweak” to the motion for the council to be “mindful of the needs of Armed Forces veterans” so the council could support a variety of charities.
TUV Bannside Councillor Timothy Gaston said he was “disappointed with Cllr Friary’s remarks adding that it was “hardly surprising coming from a Sinn Fein councillor.”
Cllr Gaston went on to say that Cllr Friary “failed to mention the reason the British Army was required in Northern Ireland”.
Ald Ashe added: “This is about looking after our veterans, giving them the same life chances as any other part if the UK.”
He said that the council would be happy to work with the Veterans’ Commissioner.
— to www.newsletter.co.uk