Military Covenant 'part of DUP-Tory deal'
The DUP has claimed the government has agreed to improve the treatment of military veterans in Northern Ireland as part of any agreement for the party's support.
Veterans have complained that the Military Covenant is not fully implemented in Northern Ireland.
The covenant is a promise to look after members of the armed forces and their families.
The DUP and Conservatives are in talks over a deal at Westminster.
Theresa May is seeking the support of the DUP's 10 MPs after losing her majority in the general election.
- 'Very good chance' of DUP-Tory deal
- Is DUP-Tory courtship cooling off?
- Nationalists spurn DUP veterans call
- 'NI military veterans abandoned'
Some unionists, including the DUP, have long called for a change in the law in Northern Ireland so that the Military Covenant is implemented in line with the rest of the UK.
On Thursday, DUP MP Ian Paisley tweeted a screenshot of the DUP's pledge to support a change in the law along with the word: "Progress!!"
The covenant means that former members of the armed forces in Great Britain are entitled to some priority medical treatment, and assistance with housing and school places for children.
The same arrangements do not apply to military veterans in Northern Ireland. A lack of specialist mental health treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been highlighted as the most significant issue.
Sinn Féin has made it clear it would not support any policy that gave priority treatment to military veterans.
Implementation of the covenant is a devolved matter that would require agreement between the first and deputy first ministers at Stormont.
However, DUP sources have said the Westminster government has now agreed to ensure that all the provisions of the covenant are implemented in Northern Ireland in the same way as other parts of the UK.
They point to a section of the Queen's Speech to Parliament on Wednesday and claimed that the party pushed for it to reference the covenant being implemented in the whole of the UK.
The Queen said: "My ministers will continue to invest in our gallant armed forces, meeting the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence, and delivering on the Armed Forces Covenant across the United Kingdom."
The DUP said the party insisted that the government included the phrase "across the United Kingdom".
A source claimed that effectively means decisions about the implementation of the agreement have been taken out of the hands of the Stormont Assembly.
The covenant, published in 2011, aims "to redress the disadvantages that the armed forces community may face in comparison to other citizens, and to recognise sacrifices made".
It "recognises that the whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the armed forces and their families".
The covenant's two principles are that:
- the armed forces community should not face disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services
- special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved
It is unclear at this stage how Westminster could overrule the Northern Ireland Assembly on an issue that was previously devolved.