A motion calling on Derry & Strabane Council to back an initiative supporting the armed forces has been rejected.
Nationalists parties and Independent Councillors refused to give their backing to the motion put forward by Ulster Unionist Party Councillor Mary Hamilton at the Guildhall on Thursday evening.
Colr Hamilton has asked that “Derry City and Strabane District Council do endorse and adopt the Armed Forces Community Covenant”.
The community covenant encourages support for armed forces personnel, their families and awareness of the issues they face.
It feeds into the overall Armed Forces Covenant, which was published by the British government in May 2011.
This claims that the “whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the armed forces and their families”, with the twin principles that the armed forces community should not face disadvantage, and that special consideration is appropriate in some cases.
Colr. Hamilton said the city and district had a “long standing tradition and association with the armed forces”.
She added that the Community Covenant promotes understanding and awareness among the general public, and accepting it would enable those who have served to access all the help and assistance possible, and ensuring they are not forgotten or ignored.
“I trust this council will support this motion,” Colr. Hamilton said. “Servicemen and women in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less than their colleagues in the UK.”
Sinn Fein Councillor Maoliosa McHugh said the same matter had been raised before the old Derry City Council and before Strabane District Council, and was rejected on both occasions.
He said that many of those armed by Britain had occupied this country, some in uniform and others without uniform.
“To expect us to endorse any type of special status beggars belief,” he said, adding that the motion showed no understanding of how the British forces are viewed by people as having conducted themselves.
SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack said her party understood the unionist position, but said that the covenant amounted to enhanced protections and treatment in areas such as housing, tax relief, training and employment and health care benefits- something they could not support as advocates of equality.
Considering the thousands in housing stress locally, and all those waiting on health appointments, it would not be fair to allow some people to “leap frog” the queues, she said.
Colr Cusack added that there was also the legacy of the Troubles to factor in, as well as the exclusion of other dangerous professions such as police and fire service.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher said the council would do better to remember the thousands of ex-prisoners and combatants who throughout the conflict and through to today faced many barriers because of the conditions they found themselves in.
These include, he said, barriers to jobs, adopting children, travel within the US or Australia, and getting insurance.
DUP Councillor Graham Warke said his party fully supported the motion.
Colr. Warke said the first responsibility of any government was to ensure its citizens are safe, and that the armed forces had put themselves in harm’s way to protect society.
He said that these were men and women who worked in extreme danger, while coping with the separation from family, mental and physical stress.
Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly said he did not support the claim of British sovereignty in this part of Ireland, and listed several incidents of local people having been killed by armed forces, including on Bloody Sunday and the case of young Stephen McConomy.
“If this motion was passed it would in fact rub salt into the wounds of those murdered in this city,” Colr. Donnelly said.
Referring to concerns he expressed earlier in the meeting over the masked parade at the funeral of Peggy O’Hara, DUP Councillor Maurice Devenney countered that the INLA had killed over 120 people in Northern Ireland.
Colr. Devenney added; “There seems to be some notion that whatever was done by Sinn Fein, by IRA, it seems to have disappeared. We need to be mindful of all those people murdered by the IRA.”
Colr McHugh responded: “I’m a wee bit fed up listening to a jaundiced view of history from the last speaker,” and said Republicans had never failed to stand up to the mark when it came to the past, but had never come looking for special status.
Closing the debate, UUP Councillor Derek Hussey said he was disappointed at how some people had taken the motion.
Colr. Hussey said that both his late parents had served in the navy, while other service relatives included an aunt who was a driver for Winston Churchill.
He said many people on all sides had relatives ir people they knew who had served in the armed forces, adding that reducing the matter down to the Troubles was “despicable”.
“It is about local people, not some sort of invasion force,” he said. “There is a fund sitting there set by the UK government to assist former personnel. By adopting this motion we are giving local people access to that fund,” he said.
The motion was defeated however with nine votes for to 26 votes against.