4 The current situation in Northern
33. Because of the nature of devolution and the different
issues that arise throughout the UK, we were told that the Covenant
has been implemented differently in the separate jurisdictions.
As noted previously, the Minister of State for Northern Ireland
told us that the vast majority of the Armed Forces Covenant is
being delivered in Northern Ireland,
but that HM Government was not complacent about addressing areas
where more needed to be done. The Minister for Defence Personnel,
Welfare and Veterans, Rt Hon Mark Francois MP, echoed this view,
saying that "overall our assessment is that provision in
Northern Ireland is generally good."
This was confirmed by Brigadier Rob Thomson, Commander of 38 (Irish)
Brigade, who said "I have a genuinely strong sense that the
outputs and the ends of the Covenant are being delivered, largely."
34. With an estimated 150,000 Armed Forces veterans
resident in Northern Ireland, access by the Armed Forces Community
to public services such as health and housing is a significant
issue. Around 63,000 of the veterans resident in Northern Ireland
served in the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Home Service Battalions
of the Royal Irish Regiment during Operation Banner, and so have
particular needs in relation to their security and, sometimes,
mental health care. We have heard about some bespoke support mechanisms
being available in Northern Ireland, such as the Aftercare Service,
but also of areas where benefits available to the Armed Forces
Community elsewhere in the UK are not available in Northern Ireland,
such as increased priority for social housing and access to certain
health services. We explore these, and others matters, below.
Assessment of disadvantage to
the Armed Forces in NI
35. The Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and
Veterans told us that, following a debate in the House on the
Armed Forces Covenant in November 2012, the Prime Minister had
taken a particular interest in the question of the Armed Forces
Covenant in Northern Ireland, and had called a meeting in January
2013 where the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Mike Penning
MP, was present. This resulted in two policies:
· that HM Government should try to establish
a clear understanding of where there might be any shortfall in
Covenant provision for service personnel in Northern Ireland,
· that options should then be developed
to fill any gaps in provision that were identified.
As a result of this meeting, Mr Penning convened
a meeting in February 2013 of representatives from a range of
Armed Forces charities operating in Northern Ireland to form the
Northern Ireland Veterans Forum. He told us that the Forum allowed
for ministerial guidance to be given to Armed Forces organisations
operating in Northern Ireland, and that the Forum would be meeting
36. The work being taken forward to identify any
shortfall in Covenant provision in Northern Ireland is similar
to a suggestion from the Committee on the Administration of Justice,
an independent human rights organisation based in Northern Ireland,
which took the view that a full assessment of the health and housing
needs of the Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland might
be a helpful way of understanding the situation and taking things
forward, an idea
supported by SSAFA Forces Help.
Mr Francois told us that, in effect, "that is what the Veterans
Forum is attempting to do."
Following such an assessment, Mr Francois told us "if we
do find any genuine gaps, we need to come up with a mechanism
to address them."
The Minister of State for Northern Ireland also confirmed that
any gaps which were identified would be filled, saying:
My attitude is that I will get that problem sorted
out. It may not be me and my Department, but we will sort it out.
37. We heard from two ministers in the Northern Ireland
Executive, Edwin Poots MLA, Minister for Health, Social Services
and Public Safety, and Nelson McCausland MLA, Minister for Social
Development, that there had been engagement between their departments
and HM Government in relation to the current assessment of the
provision of services to the Armed Forces Community in Northern
Ireland. Mr McCausland told us that he was fairly clear as to
the issues that needed to be addressed, and confirmed that he
would be happy to look at anything new that arose.
38. We welcome the work undertaken by the Northern
Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence, at the Prime Minister's
direction, to assess any shortfall in Covenant provision in Northern
Ireland. It is vital that any such shortfalls are addressed, whether
this is by the Northern Ireland Executive or HM Government. We
recommend that the MoD respond to any identified needs of the
Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland, and report on how
these will be met.
Armed Forces organisations in
39. Throughout the course of our inquiry we heard
that there was "a good deal of care for veterans within Northern
Ireland" from various charities and organisations,
and that the services provided by the voluntary sector in Northern
Ireland were often superior to those provided elsewhere in the
UK. Following a visit
to Northern Ireland, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare
and Veterans also stated that the Armed Forces charities and third
sector organisations in Northern Ireland "deliver[ed] a good
service in the spirit of the Armed Forces Covenant."
We have heard that the various Armed Forces charities in Northern
Ireland provide valuable support to the Armed Forces Community,
· independent inquest advice for bereaved
· financial support, in terms of short term
crisis type grants;
· practical assistance and advice;
· signposting the appropriate organisations;
· financial casework for individuals,
· treatment and support for mental health
We were also told that the work of the Armed Forces
charities in Northern Ireland, and the problems their clients
brought to them, were broadly similar to what their colleagues
dealt with in other parts of the UK.
40. Colonel Richard Gordon of SSAFA Forces Help told
us that he did not see huge disadvantages to the Armed Forces
Community in Northern Ireland by not having the Covenant formally
implemented. This view was echoed by Brian Maguire of the Royal
I cannot point to a single case, in all the cases
we have dealt with in our time, where I can say for sure that
the individual would have been better treated had they been living
elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Similar views were expressed by Colonel Paul Cummings
of ABF, the Soldiers Charity, who said that in almost every respect
the Armed Forces Community in Northern Ireland was treated the
same as that community in GB.
41. The Royal British Legion and SSAFA Forces Help
told us that there was a very close working relationship between
a number of charities and other stakeholders operating in Northern
Ireland, but other
witnesses believed that there was a lack of "overarching
co-ordination, co-operation and governance."
The Northern Ireland Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committee
said that, although at a working level there was good co-operation
between the various Armed Forces organisations in Northern Ireland,
it seemed every organisation was "doing their own thing",
and that engagement was needed from Northern Ireland politicians
to give their work impetus.
The establishment of the Northern Ireland Veterans Forum, outlined
above, is intended to allow for ministerial guidance of the various
Armed Forces organisations operating in Northern Ireland.
42. We were told that most of the Armed Forces charities
in Northern Ireland neither receive, nor seek, financial support
from the MoD, and are independently supported.
As an exception, Combat Stress receives remuneration from the
MoD in respect of those in receipt of a war pension and those
who the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) agrees need
treatment. We also
heard that ABF, the Soldiers' Charity, had historically received
£25,000 from the Northern Ireland Office, but that they had
not received a grant this year.
43. The Armed Forces charities operating in Northern
Ireland are essential to the effective support of the Armed Forces
Community, and we applaud the efforts of all those working in
the Armed Forces voluntary sector. We welcome the establishment
of the Northern Ireland Veterans Forum, which has brought together
many of the key stakeholders. We would urge this forum to address
concerns that we heard regarding a lack of over-arching co-ordination
and co-operation between the many Armed Forces organisations operating
in Northern Ireland.
Measures put in place by Northern
44. Although the Northern Ireland Executive has not
formally endorsed the Armed Forces Covenant, individual Northern
Ireland departments have taken measures to ensure that members
of the Armed Forces Community do not face any disadvantage in
accessing public services.
45. The Department of Health, Social Services and
Public Safety (DHSSPS) published a protocol in 2009 for ensuring
equitable access to health and social care services for members
of the Armed Forces. This set out a framework to ensure that serving
members of the Armed Forces, their families and veterans suffered
no disadvantage in accessing health and social care services.
The protocol was supported by the Armed Forces Liaison Forum,
which includes representatives from the Armed Forces, SSAFA, ABF,
Royal British Legion, MoD, and Combat Stress.
46. However, the Northern Ireland Veterans Advisory
and Pensions Committee raised concerns that the Liaison Forum
was not meeting frequently enough, as it was difficult to get
everyone required together. They said the Forum was meant to meet
two or three times a year, but had actually been meeting only
once a year. Since
being established in 2010, the Forum had met on only three occasions.
It is due to meet again in October 2013.
47. The Northern Ireland Minister for Social Development
assured us that his department engaged with representative bodies
of the Armed Forces Community, and also that he was keen to discuss
replicating DHSSPS's model with his officials, telling us "it
does seem to be a very good model."
The Commander of 38 (Irish) Brigade also told us that they would
like to see the arrangements made at the DHSSPS replicated in
the housing sector.
48. We welcome the protocol for ensuring equitable
access to health and social care services for the Armed Forces
published by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public
Safety in 2009, and also the Armed Forces Liaison Forum which
was established to support this protocol. This has established
an important mechanism enabling the Armed Forces Community to
engage with a department of the Northern Ireland Executive on
issues and policies affecting them. We believe that other departments
might usefully consider establishing similar forums on areas of
policy particularly relevant to the Armed Forces Community.
49. One possible area for improvement was the lack
of any mechanism within the Northern Ireland Executive which would
enable departments to liaise and share details of best practice
in relation to work affecting the Armed Forces Community. The
Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, suggested that
the establishment of a ministerial subgroup would be an
option to improve dialogue between departments, something which
the Northern Ireland Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland
MLA, supported. Mr
Poots went on to say that, because various other departments were
involved with services relevant to the Armed Forces Community,
a ministerial sub-group would "assist us in having a better
coordinated response to the issues that come before us."
50. The MoD said that although liaison with the Northern
Ireland Executive worked well at a "grassroots" level,
they would welcome the Executive engaging with them at a more
corporate level on the Armed Forces Covenant.
This could potentially be achieved through the establishment of
a sub-ministerial group, which could then liaise with HM Government
51. We welcome the suggestion by Mr Poots and
Mr McCausland that a ministerial sub-group be established within
the Northern Ireland Executive to improve co-ordination between
Northern Ireland departments on policy affecting the Armed Forces.
Clearly, this is a matter that is the responsibility of the Northern
Ireland Executive but, nonetheless, we hope that such a group
will be established without delay to further the work being done
by Northern Ireland Departments.
Healthcare, housing and education
HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS
52. There are differences across the UK in how social
housing is provided. In Great Britain, many social housing providers
have decided to award members of the Armed Forces Community increased
priority in accessing social housing. However, in Northern Ireland
the Housing Executive operates the Common Selection Scheme, which
does not allow for that flexibility.
53. In practice, however, this does not appear to
be a problem. Brigadier Rob Thomson told us that 38 (Irish) Brigade
had connections with the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland
so that particular issues could be addressed and people signposted
to the most appropriate place.
Rear Admiral Williams, Defence Services Secretary with the MoD,
The normal places I would look for evidence of
a real problemthe service families federations and service
charitiesdo not seem to indicate the size of the problem
you might expect.
54. When we questioned Armed Forces charities about
difficulties members of the Armed Forces Community might face
in accessing housing in Northern Ireland, we were told that there
was not a huge disadvantage, and that the charities were set up
to provide support to those needing, for instance, help with a
deposit and rent in advance for private rented accommodation.
The representative from ABF, the Soldiers Charity, told us that
the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland was extremely responsive
at enabling people, whether from the Armed Forces Community or
not, to move into social housing, while in other areas of the
UK veterans might be at the top of the waiting list but there
was no housing available.
We also heard from 38 (Irish) Brigade that lack of capacity in
social housing was the main issue, but that contacts with the
Housing Executive enabled individuals to be signposted appropriately.
55. One area we questioned witnesses about was evidence
of problems arising from homelessness and mental health in the
Armed Forces Community. Most witnesses told us that they were
not aware of homelessness being a particular problem for veterans
in Northern Ireland,
but that no comprehensive assessment had been made. Brian Maguire
of the Royal British Legion told us that although homelessness
and alcoholism were issues for veterans, they were not a significant
problem in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland minister responsible for housing told us
that in the absence of accurate data, there was no evidence that
homelessness was greater amongst veterans.
Work had been commissioned on this issue and it had been specifically
tasked to look as "the position of former soldiers."
56. Although the Northern Ireland Executive did not
prioritise service leavers wishing to access social housing, the
Northern Ireland Minister of Social Development, Nelson McCausland
MLA, told us that his intention was that
where service personnel and their families have
to vacate military-provided housing, they are not placed at a
disadvantage compared with other applicants.
Mr McCausland took the view that personnel returning
to Northern Ireland after service should be treated on the same
basis as any other local person. His written submission to the
Committee also raised a number of interesting points, including:
· Homelessness - the Department for Social
Development, NI, take the view ex-service applicants who are at
risk of homelessness or rough sleeping because of their institutional
background are vulnerable persons and should be given priority
· Connection with Northern Ireland - the
Housing Selection Scheme could be interpreted so as to render
applicants for social housing ineligible if they are ex-service
personnel from elsewhere in the UK who have been based in Northern
Ireland. The Minister has instructed the Housing Executive not
to interpret the Scheme in a way which is disadvantageous to any
"ex-service applicant", and it will be amended at the
· Priority status - the Department is exploring
the possibility of giving some recognition to ex-service applicants
in priority for social housing, but the different legal framework
makes it unlikely that it would be able to fully reflect the position
in Great Britain.
57. A number of healthcare disadvantages to veterans
in Northern Ireland were identified, including:
· IVF treatment - in England and Scotland,
certain injured service personnel would get three cycles of IVF,
in Wales two but in Northern Ireland they were only entitled to
one, in line with the general population in Northern Ireland.
· Priority NHS treatment - in England, Scotland
and Wales there was priority NHS treatment for veterans with Service-related
injuries subject to the clinical needs of others, but in Northern
Ireland there was no such priority.
The MoD told us that they were working with the relevant
Northern Ireland department to see if this disparity in IVF treatment
could be addressed.
We were also told by a representative from SSAFA Forces Help that
they would "pay for IVF treatment for injured service personnel
as well, on a countrywide basis", 
and the Commander of 38 (Irish) Brigade said that he was confident
a bespoke solution could be provided if someone needed IVF treatment.
Additionally, Mr Poots made it clear that, in relation to IVF
treatments, ex-service personnel in Northern Ireland were not
losing out in comparison to other residents of Northern Ireland,
but simply did not have the same benefits as were provided to
veterans in GB. In
relation to priority treatment under the NHS, the Northern Ireland
minister responsible for health told us that the differences between
NI and the rest of the UK were unlikely to make a considerable
difference in practice.
58. The Minister of State for Northern Ireland specifically
noted Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as one area where
more needed to be done to ensure that treatment could be effectively
delivered to veterans in Northern Ireland.
The MoD told us that there had been some problems with how service
leavers were briefed on mental health issues in the past, but
that work had been done to improve this and to offer more support.
Mr Poots told us that PTSD was a particular issue for veterans
who had served in NI during "the Troubles" and those
who had served in Iraq, with an anticipation that many returning
from service in Afghanistan would also be affected.
The Regimental Association of the Royal Irish Regiment told us
that they relied very heavily on the Aftercare Service for members
suffering from PTSD, although there were still some people who
fell through the net.
59. We heard from Combat Stress that they had a centre
in Belfast for providing advice and out-patient treatment, but
those veterans who required in-patient treatment had to travel
to a facility in Scotland.
When questioned on whether the DHSSPS could take a role in providing
treatment for veterans suffering from mental health problems,
Mr Poots said it was something the Armed Forces Liaison Forum
could look at to assess the "desirability and affordability"
of such measures.
He also told us that the "amount of money that we spend on
mental health as a proportion of the population that requires
mental health treatment is not where I would like it to be",
but that he was not in a position to increase this at present.
60. We received evidence from the Northern Ireland
Health Minister and others that some veterans may benefit from
access to a psychiatrist. We strongly recommend that HM
Government gives serious consideration to a more robust mental
health support team for veterans in Northern Ireland, including
the appointment of a dedicated psychiatrist.
61. The provision of advanced prosthetics to Armed
Forces veterans was an area where HM Government had made £6.5
million available for service personnel wounded in Iraq or in
Afghanistan. Mr Francois told us that he understood that, so as
not to be seen to give the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland preferential
treatment, the NI department for health wanted to try and make
the advanced prosthetics available to all.
This was confirmed by Mr Poots, who told us "we have taken
the position that those who require prosthetics should all receive
it at the top-end standard", and that his officials had been
liaising closely with the MoD about this matter.
On the question of funding for advanced prosthetics, supplementary
evidence we received from Mr Poots explained that his department
was working with the MoD and NHS towards recognising the Regional
Disablement Service, Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast, as Northern
Ireland's Disability Services Centre of Excellence, so that funding
from the MoD's advanced prosthetics provision would be available
to Northern Ireland. 
62. A specific benefit available to members of the
Armed Forces Community in England, Scotland and Wales, but not
Northern Ireland, is the Further and Higher Education Commitments
Scheme, where eligible service leavers are provided with access
to a first full Level 3 course.
The Ministry of Defence told us that they were moving closer to
an agreement with the relevant Department in the Northern Ireland
Executive to review that position in the hope of operating the
same scheme in Northern Ireland,
and this work was "looking promising".
63. There are a number of cases where the Armed
Forces Community in NI does not receive the same level of benefits
in relation to health, housing and education as that community
in GB. However, we are encouraged that HM Government is working
with the relevant Northern Ireland departments to resolve these
disparities, where possible, and that in general there is no serious
material disadvantage to the Armed Forces Community in Northern
Ireland under current arrangements.
The Ulster Defence Regiment and
Royal Irish (Home Service) Regiment Aftercare Service
64. One unique support mechanism that exists exclusively
in Northern Ireland is the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish
(Home Service) Regiment Aftercare Service. Of the estimated 150,000
veterans in Northern Ireland, the Aftercare Service is open to
the 63,000 who served in the Royal Irish Regiment Home Service
Battalions or in the UDR. The MoD's evidence stated:
The largest veteran community is that of the
Royal Irish Regiment and the Ulster Defence Regiment. Recognising
the enduring security situation, a bespoke Ulster Defence Regiment
and Royal Irish (Home Service) Regiment Aftercare Service is in
place, funded by the Ministry of Defence. It supports veterans
in the delivery of psychiatry, physiotherapy and welfare casework
and signposts them to other organisations, according to their
Rear Admiral Williams, from the MoD, explained that
there was a benevolent element to it and there was some physiotherapy
and psychotherapy associated with the service, and that the level
of service it provided "could be considered better than that
which would be provided elsewhere".
The MoD told us that the Aftercare Service was a "bespoke"
service that catered for the specific needs of veterans from the
RIR and UDR., and that other veterans were supported in different
ways by the MoD and SPVA.
Colonel Gordon of SSAFA Forces Help also argued against extending
the Aftercare Service to the broader veterans community, saying
that it was a bespoke service and extending it would involve "public
funds being extended into other areas where there is existing
65. Colonel Cummings, Director of Welfare for ABF,
the Soldiers' Charity, took the view that the wider veterans community
in Northern Ireland would very much like to see the Aftercare
Service extended to them, saying:
It is hugely valued. It is hugely valued by the
Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish (Home Service) Regiment,
and also it is hugely valued by the veterans community in Ireland,
which believes that this reflects a real commitment by Government
to support individuals who have made a significant sacrifice over
time. The veteran community, I have no doubt, would very much
like to see the support that is given to the Ulster Defence Regiment
and the Home Service, through the Aftercare Service, extended
He said that the impediment to extending the service
was the cost, as currently the service was being provided by the
voluntary sector, as it is in GB.
He did not accept the argument that the service was too tailored
to be applicable to the wider veterans community, saying "with
some minor adaptation it could meet the needs of the veteran population
as a whole," as the needs of the RIR Home Service and UDR
were shared in many cases by other veterans in Northern Ireland.
66. The Regimental Association of the Royal Irish
Regiment supported the extension of the Aftercare service to all
HM Forces Veterans living in Northern Ireland, alongside an expansion
of the service to provide increased support.
Brigadier Rob Thomson, Commander of 38 (Irish) Brigade told us
that he did not see the case for extending the Aftercare Service,
as those veterans not from the UDR or RIR (Home Service) were
having their needs met under other existing arrangements.
67. The Royal Irish Regiment raised concerns about
future funding for the Aftercare Service in the future. They told
us they understood the service to be funded until 2014, but had
concerns about what would happen after that.
When we questioned the Minister of State for Northern Ireland
on this point, he told us that funding for the Aftercare Service
was in place until 2016, and that negotiations would start in
2014 or 2015 about funding going forward.
68. A number of witnesses have made the case that
veterans in Northern Ireland could benefit from the expansion
of the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish (Home Service)
Regiment Aftercare Service. We appreciate the argument that this
is a bespoke service tailored to the specific needs of units that
were based and served in Northern Ireland, but feel there could
be value in extending the services it offered more widely where,
for example, there is best practice which would benefit other
veterans. We recommend that the MoD assesses the benefits
of extending the Aftercare Service to all veterans based in Northern
Ireland, and report back to us.
Engagement by HM Government
69. Although no representative of the devolved administration
in Northern Ireland sits on the Covenant Reference Group, we did
hear that the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Mike Penning
MP, sits on the Covenant Committee, a cross-Government Committee,
tasked with implementing the Armed Forces Covenant across various
HM Government departments.
We were also told about the close working relationship between
the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministry of Defence on issues
relating to the Armed Forces Covenant, and the work of 38 (Irish)
Brigade. The Minister
for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans particularly praised
the role of 38 (Irish) Brigade in engaging with the devolved administration.
When we took evidence from Brigadier Rob Thomson, its Commander,
he told us:
I am responsible for delivering firm base, which
is a phrase we use in the military to talk about support to families
of soldiers and support to service personnel. I am responsible
for the security of all the garrison: the serving, regular and
reserve within Northern Ireland. I include civil servants within
my responsibility, who are currently serving our Department. Finally,
my job is to represent the Army in Northern Ireland as a region
of the United Kingdom.
Comparisons with Scotland and
70. A number of support mechanisms that the Scottish
and Welsh Governments have put in place for the Armed Forces Community
in Scotland and Wales were highlighted throughout our inquiry.
· Access and support for veterans through
the All Wales Health and Wellbeing Service;
· £485,000 provided annually by the
Welsh Government to the NHS directly aimed at mental health for
· £400,000 from the Scottish Government
to facilitate 60 projects for the benefit of veterans, and
· £1.7 million from the Scottish Government
to Combat Stress, which provided treatment for 721 veterans in
In comparison, the NIVPAC told us that in Northern
Ireland "no direct or ring-fenced funding had been provided
to the best of our knowledge."
71. Mr Francois told us that "provision is not
precisely the same in all three nations, partly because they are
devolved", and his staff said that in the case of Scotland,
as a comparison,
the Scottish Executive has taken a much more
proactive political role in trying to keep pace with developments
in England and Wales. It is that kind of leadership that has made
a significant difference for us there.
In relation to MoD spending in the devolved administrations,
Mr Francois told us "I do not think there is any disadvantage
in terms of what we spend" in Northern Ireland.
47 Q68 Back
AFC 05 Back
Ev 126 Back
Q130, Ev 111 Back
Ev 136 Back
Qq 70, 347 Back
Qq 130, 178 Back
Ev 102 Back
Ev 114 Back
Ev 114 Back
Ev 136 Back
This is is a GCE A-level or vocational equivalent, or a first
higher education qualification, or first foundation degree, or
first undergraduate degree or equivalent, free of tuition fees. Back
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