Military Covenant: Nationalists reject DUP veterans call
Sinn Féin and the SDLP have criticised a DUP call to change the law in Northern Ireland to make it possible for seriously injured military veterans to get priority medical treatment.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC's Spotlight programme the government must ensure veterans get the care they need.
The Military Covenant is a government promise to look after former members of the armed forces and their families.
It is a promise many veterans in Northern Ireland say has been broken.
As a result of the covenant, veterans in Great Britain are entitled to some form of priority medical treatment, but that is not the case in Northern Ireland.
Mr Donaldson, a former UDR soldier, said the Westminster government should amend equality laws introduced as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
"There are instances where veterans should get priority treatment because of the circumstances in which they sustained their injuries," said the DUP MP.
"We believe that if we have men and women returning from operational deployment who have either mental or physical trauma, that they should be treated at their point of need, that they should not be expected to wait around for months on end for that treatment.
"After all, war is instantaneous."
The MP rejects claims that such a move would give former soldiers and other military personnel an unfair advantage.
"What's fair about putting on a uniform and going out to serve your country and, and being caught in an improvised explosive device and losing both your arms and both your legs? There's nothing fair about that," he said.
But nationalists and republicans have said they will oppose any move to change what they regard as a key part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson told Spotlight any amendment would be unacceptable.
"To think that anyone would suggest after the hurt and the pain that the British government and the British army has caused in this society, that they should be in some way elevated in their position, that they should get preferential treatment, I don't think that is sending out a good message, that we should have another hurtful hierarchy here," she said.
The SDLP is also opposed to any change. The party supported changing the law to make it possible to increase the number of Catholic police officers, but will not support any move to give military veterans priority treatment.
Deputy leader Dolores Kelly said: "Many people, particularly in the nationalist community, would have bitter memories of the armed forces and their behaviour here in the north and in some respects they already have had privileged positions as very few of them have gone to jail for their misdeeds.
"We don't believe that privileged positions should be given to any one group of victims."