Veterans press Royal British Legion not to close respite centre

From left, James McCurdy Ballycastle, Councillor Joan Baird from Ballycastle and Mark McLaughlin from Ballymoney. ''Photo: KEVIN MCAULEY/MCAULEY MULTIMEDIA
From left, James McCurdy Ballycastle, Councillor Joan Baird from Ballycastle and Mark McLaughlin from Ballymoney. ''Photo: KEVIN MCAULEY/MCAULEY MULTIMEDIA

Hundreds of armed forces veterans and their supporters have staged a protest against the closure of a specialised Royal British Legion respite centre in Portrush.

The protest took place on Saturday outside Bennet House in Portrush.

Hundreds of veterans and members of the public protest against the closure of Bennet House. Photo: KEVIN MCAULEY/MCAULEY MULTIMEDIA

Hundreds of veterans and members of the public protest against the closure of Bennet House. Photo: KEVIN MCAULEY/MCAULEY MULTIMEDIA

MAPS of West Tyrone, which campaigns for the needs of ex-members of the Military, Police and Prison Service, is opposing the closure.

In a statement, its said a campaign by military veterans is underway to “implore” the Royal British Legion (RBL) to reverse its decision to close the Poppy Break Centre, Bennet House, in Portrush.

Bennet House is the only facility of its kind on the island where British armed forces veterans from both sides of the border can go for respite to deal with conditions including PTSD and stress, it said.

“The closure decision was part of an RBL Strategic Review, and veterans say it was done without any prior consultation,” it said.

Veterans and supporters travelled from far and wide to protest against the closure.

Veterans and supporters travelled from far and wide to protest against the closure.

News of the closure had caused “shock within the veteran community in Ireland” it added. “Thousands who have availed of its services are angry that their place of respite will disappear in early 2020.

“Bennet House is a special place to many who can avail of a short break as part of their coping mechanism. It is right that we treat our veterans properly and give them the opportunity to heal.”

George Black, a former Chairman of RBL in Northern Ireland, is also opposed to the closure.

“The legion has proposed closing four respite centres, the other three of which are in England,” he said.

“The proposal came after a university study concluded that veterans felt as bad as ever only several weeks after their stay. But in my view the correct response is for the legion to offer better follow-up care for those who visit, not to close the centre”.

It has not been possible to find anyone on the island who had been consulted, he added.

An RBL spokesman said: “The situation is unchanged since November: no decision has yet been taken and the consultation is still continuing. We cannot ‘reverse’ a decision that has not yet been taken.”