Council pledges support for armed forces covenant

Council pledges support for armed forces covenant

28 November 2012

DOWN Council is encouraging people across the district to support the local armed forces community.

It agreed the move at its monthly meeting on Monday night but the decision was not unanimous. Before the decision is formally ratified, council officials have been asked to investigate if it contravenes equality legislation.

A motion urging the council to sign up to the community covenant created to improve support to the armed forces, including serving personnel, their families and veterans, was proposed by Ballynahinch Ulster Unionist councillor Walter Lyons.

The motion secured the support of the UUP, DUP, Alliance and Independent councillor Terry Andrews, but was opposed by Sinn Fein and Independent councillors Cadogan Enright and Mickey Coogan.

The SDLP abstained, with the leader of the council’s members explaining his party would not be opposing or supporting the motion. Councillor Eamonn O’Neill referred to one of the principles in the Good Friday Agreement “that people should be allowed to express their identity in whatever way they feel.”

Councillor Lyons said the freedoms people enjoy today are as a result of men and women putting on a military uniform and he criticised the SDLP for not participating in the debate.

DUP councillor Billy Walker “commended” the SDLP on its stance and explained the motion being debated was about supporting young men and women of the area who have suffered as a result of conflicts they have been involved in. He said the motion was also about supporting people in the local community.

Alliance councillor Patrick Clarke said his party has always recognised the sacrifice that individuals in the armed services and their families make. He said they deserve “real and tangible support.”

Councillor Cadogan Enright questioned if the community covenant, which originated in England, could be introduced in Northern Ireland, while Councillor Coogan questioned the need for Down Council to sign up to it.

He said while there are opposing views on the issue, he could not refuse support to anyone who had been injured in conflict.

Sinn Fein councillor Stephen Burns said his party was opposed to the motion, arguing that it “elevated one section of the community above another and gave preferential treatment to armed forces personnel and veterans.”

Council chief executive, Mr. John Dumigan, said he did not believe council support for the motion would contravene equality legislation and did not need to be referred for scrutiny. But he agreed to do so at the request of councillors Burns and Coogan.

• The motion was passed by eight votes to four. There were eight abstentions.