Force veterans on the march for more help

Doug Beattie. Picture by Brian Thompson/Presseye

Doug Beattie. Picture by Brian Thompson/Presseye

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A parade demanding more support for Armed Forces veterans is being held tomorrow (Saturday) in Portadown town centre.

It has been organised by the group Justice for Veterans UK, set up in December by former Craigavon man Anto Wickham, who served in the Royal Irish Regiment for 22 years.

Mr Wickham said the aim of the parade is to protest at the mistreatment of veterans in Northern Ireland by Stormont and the British government and, in particular, failure to implement the Military Covenant.

He said, “The Military Covenant was set up by David Cameron who said society owed veterans a debt. Once personnel leave the Forces they are at a disadvantage because they haven’t lived in the community for such a long time.

“They need help to integrate again, whether it’s social, medical or housing help. There was meant to be a volunteer veterans champion in every council in the UK but that hasn’t happened.”

Armagh City , Banbridge and Craigavon Council is one of the councils which does have a veterans champion - UUP MLA Doug Beattie.

Mr Wickham, who joined the Army when he was 16 and served in war zones including Bosnia and Kosovo, found work as a private security guard after he left but many veterans don’t find it so easy. He explained, “When you leave the Forces, it’s like taking a comfort blanket from a child. Your support and your friends are gone.”

Around 200 people are expected to take part in the parade which will be led by St Mark’s Silver Band.

The parade will meet at the legion building in Thomas Street at 1.30, setting off at 2pm to march to the cenotaph where a wreath will be laid, returning afterwards to the legion. Addresses will be given by Mr Wickham and MLA Doug Beattie.

This is the second parade organised by Justice for Veterans UK and a third is being planned for Londonderry at the end of the year.