Derry & Strabane DUP councillors abstained from their own motion on post-traumatic stress disorder after part of it singling out security forces was removed.
The Council voted by majority to adopt an amended version of the motion put forward by DUP Councillor Graham Warke at the full council’s July meeting at the Guildhall on Thursday.
This resulted in Colr. Warke claiming some councillors were more supportive of “terrorists” in prison than local members of the armed forces.
Colr. Warke had proposed that the Council recognise “the high number of citizens, including veterans and serving members of our security forces, who suffer and in many cases have taken their own lives as a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and that Council seeks to address the level of support available to these individuals”.
Speaking to his motion, Colr. Warke said he had been contacted by local members of the local community concerned about the increase in the number of veterans suffering from PTSD.
He said that PTSD was also often experienced by those, among others, involved in car accidents, victims of assault and police service personnel who have to visit horrific scenes.
He said that associated conditions included anxiety, panic attacks, and substance misuse, particularly alcohol misuse.
He said that while for many, a veteran conjured an image of an old man in a beret and medals marching, there were more and more younger veteran men and women experiencing difficulties but who were often too proud to ask for help, ending up isolated and alone, worried about finances, struggling to find housing.
“Many of them have physical and mental health problems but do not get the help they need,” he said, adding that this included those who had served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We need to support these people,” Colr. Warke said.
Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly proposed an amendment to remove the inclusion of armed forces and veterans, and his proposal was seconded by SDLP Councillor John Boyle.
Colr. Donnelly said that PTSD was “not simply related to conflict”, adding: “No one group should be singled out here. No-one should get special treatment or should be elevated. “There are different groups of combatants involved in the conflict here and as a Republican I cannot accept the motion as it stands. I do believe help should be available to everyone.”
Colr. Boyle said the SDLP was planning to introduce a similar amendment.
“We feel it is the responsibility of this City & District Council to represent every citizen irrespective of background or creed, and regardless of what job they did in the past,” he said.
“We feel when it comes to health we should treat every member of society the same. No-one should be chosen above anyone else.”
Colr. Warke said it was “sad” that other councillors would not accept the motion as he proposed it and said the armed forces were “brave men and women who serve this nation”.
He also claimed that instead, certain councillors would rather support “terrorists” out of Maghaberry Prison, and spoke of people who will suffer all their lives because of IRA bombings.
However the vote to accept Colr. Donnelly’s amendment was carried when 26 councillors voted for it and eight voted against it.
UUP Councillor Derek Hussey proposed a further amendment including mention of the levels of PTSD among veterans and serving security force members, with his proposal seconded by Independent Councillor Maurice Devenney.
Colr. Hussey said that there was a recognition generally that this group of people experienced higher levels of PTSD.
However Sinn Fein Councillor Maoliosa McHugh said that this was proposal was “a back door to what was presented at the outset”, and claimed Colr. Warke’s “outburst” showed what was behind the motion.
SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney agreed and said Colr. Hussey’s motion was “just what was put before us in a different way”.
“PTSD knows no boundaries”, he said, adding that it affected everyone from taxi drivers and bin men to priests. “None should be getting singled out. There should be no hierarchy here. The health service should be open to everyone, whether you are employed in the British Army or unemployed.”
Colr. Hussey’s proposed amendment was defeated after eight voted in favour and 26 councillors voted against it.
The motion as amended by Colr. Donnelly, removing any mention of the armed forces was passed, with the support of 26 councillors. Eight councillors abstained, including Colr. Warke and his DUP colleagues.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful, frightening or distressing events.