A £250m (€364.3m)-plus British government redundancy package for more than 3,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland should have been allocated to improving public services, a Sinn Féin MP claimed today.
Michelle Gildernew said families whose relatives had been victims of alleged collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Regiment were angry at the pay-off.
She said they would have preferred the money, which is being given to full-time and part-time soldiers affected by plans to phase out three Northern Ireland-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), to be spent on improving roads, schools and boosting the economy.
“Unionist arguments about the economic implications resulting from the scrapping of the RIR expose the truth about their opposition to progress on demilitarisation,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP argued.
“It is based on unionist self-interest, not the interests of the peace process or the demilitarisation of our society.
“Sinn Féin have argued that demilitarisation should and could release millions of pounds for use on frontline services such as health and education, and to tackle decades of under-investment and neglect, particularly west of the Bann.
“Rather than seek a British Exchequer subvention of millions for the exclusive benefit of the unionist population, I believe that many people in places like Fermanagh and Tyrone would prefer to see this money spent on improving the roads infrastructure, improving local schools and in developing the local economy to the benefit of everyone.”
Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram will announce in the House of Commons today details of financial settlements for troops affected by the disbandment of the Royal Irish Regiment’s three Home Service battalions in August next year.
The battalions are being axed as part of a major security scaledown in the wake of the IRA’s declaration last July that its armed campaign is over.
Redundancy deals worth up to £100,000 (€145,500) in some cases are believed to have been negotiated.
Sources also claimed today full-time members would walk away with at least £40,000 (€58,300).
It is understood the full-time package will comprise redundancy, pension and ex-gratia government payments.
A payment scale will be used based on rank and length of service.
Part-time troops will be given tax-free lump sums.
Sources also said the severance arrangements were comparable with what police officers received as a result of policing reforms in the North and in some cases were better.
Mr Ingram, British Defence Secretary John Reid and Northern Secretary Peter Hain have all been involved in the severance talks.
Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley met British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the package in London yesterday.
The North Antrim MP and his colleague Jeffrey Donaldson had warned the British government a generous package recognising the role of the UDR and RIR was essential to restore unionist confidence in the political process.