STORMONT ministers have been criticised by a DUP politician for putting the needs of Irish Travellers ahead of those of British soldiers.
Sammy Wilson, a Democratic Unionist Party MP for East Antrim, made his comments in the House of Commons yesterday when he said his party wants the law changed to ensure the “moral obligation” to look after former British soldiers is fulfilled in the North of Ireland.
“I must say it’s hard to understand why members of the Travelling community should be regarded by the Northern Ireland Office as being more worthy of preferential treatment than members of the armed forces,” he said.
In particular, Mr Wilson spoke about access to housing and health services to key groups that need protection in the North of Ireland - saying that, in particular, access to social housing is prioritised for former members of the armed forces in Britain, but not in the North of Ireland.
Mr Wilson’s comments come on the back of claims by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) that 93 per cent of the Armed Forces Covenant is implemented in the North of Ireland.
The covenant, which is the obligation of the British Government to take care of former military men and women, is in place in England, Scotland, Wales and the North of Ireland.
Mr Wilson questioned the NIO figures and queried why the implementation in the North of Ireland fell below that in Britain.
But the Traveller Movement, a London-based organisation that works with the Irish Travelling community and Romany Gypsies, hit back at Mr Wilson’s comments.
“Whilst we commend Sammy Wilson MP’s work to ensure equality for Military Personnel in Northern Ireland, we strongly disagree with his comments insinuating that Irish Travellers are undeserving of targeted measures to improve the exceptionally poor socio-economic outcomes these groups experience,” a spokesperson told The Irish Post.
“The Traveller Movement fully support Military Personal in Northern Ireland having the same entitlements as personal in other parts of the UK.
“Both Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers across the UK also serve in the armed forces and we strongly believe they, alongside their settled colleagues, should have equality in accessing services.”