Northern Ireland

Paisley warns Tories over armed forces

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Ian Paisley succeeded his late father as MP for North Antrim in 2010

The Northern Ireland Secretary has been warned that the DUP expects the rights of members of the armed forces in Northern Ireland to be upheld as part of its deal to support the UK government.

Ian Paisley MP made the remarks while Karen Bradley was questioned about a decision by the UK Border Force not to include former military experience as criteria for employment in Northern Ireland after Brexit.

North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon told a meeting of the NI Affairs Committee this morning that the "discriminatory recruitment process" must be overturned by the government.

'We expect this to be honoured'

Committee member North Antrim MP Ian Paisley intervened and reminded the Secretary of State of the government's commitments under the Military Covenant.

He quoted from the Confidence and Supply agreement between his party and the prime minister.

"It says full implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant throughout the whole of the United Kingdom," he said.

"I hate to have to remind you in public, it's this confidence and supply agreement that keeps the government in place.

"We expect this to be honoured. We expect armed forces who served throughout the United Kingdom and across the world on behalf of the UK, that their rights will be upheld."

Image caption Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley

The Secretary of State told the committee the government fully supports the Military Covenant and would expect military experience to be considered as part of the recruitment process.

She said the Northern Ireland Office had received legal advice that there was a basis for different criteria to be applied in Northern Ireland.

"We need to make sure that when we do things we do things in a way that they're not going to be challenged in the courts," she explained.

There was also a difference of opinion between Karen Bradley and the committee about whether she had made representations about the issue to the Immigration Minister, who has responsibility for the UK Border Force.

Several times the Secretary of State told the committee she had discussed the issue with Caroline Nokes MP.

The committee chairman, Dr Andrew Murrison MP, interjected and said he had received a letter from Ms Nokes on June 21st regarding the issue of whether Karen Bradley had made representations to her about the issue.

"The response was ...to date there have no representations made from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, which contradicts what you have just said," he said.

Image caption The Border Force manages UK border controls on customs and immigration.

Karen Bradley said she had not officially written to the Immigration Minister, but had discussed the issue with her.

"I think it's probably a technical definition about what a representation constitutes," she added.

The Secretary of State was also questioned about evidence to the committee by the Chief Constable last week.

George Hamilton criticised the lack of government decision making and guidance about security implications after Brexit.

He said the PSNI felt "in the dark" because of a lack of information, and didn't even know to whom it should send a business case seeking additional resources for post Brexit border security duties.

"George Hamilton, who I have known for a number of years, is not a man given to hyperbole, but I'm sure you were as alarmed as I was by what he had to say last week," said Andrew Murrison.

The NI Affairs Committee chairman said the Chief Constable was "clearly in a very difficult position".

"He gave clear evidence to us that he was getting very little support from those he would ordinarily expect to get support from which worried us and I'm very sure worries you and I would like to know what you are going to do about that," he added.

Karen Bradley said she was in regular contact with the Chief Constable and had spoken as recently as this morning.

"We have been clear, we will make sure the Chief Constable will have access to who he needs to have access to, that briefings will be given," she said.

Questioned repeatedly by Lady Sylvia Hermon MP, she refused to be drawn on whether the PSNI will be given extra money for the additional resources it says will be needed.

"I am not making any comment on the bids that are being considered, that would be inappropriate," she said.

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