THE Mayor of Craigavon has refuted claims that she has joined the Lurgan branch of the Royal British Legion for political reasons.
Councillor Carla Lockhart, who is from Aughnacloy, joined the Lurgan branch after becoming involved with the Legion’s Poppy Appeal and lending her support to the establishment of a support group for families and friends of soldiers who are currently serving or are about to go into active duty.
The ‘MAIL’ was contacted by a member of the Legion in Lurgan who suggested the Mayor was seeking political gain by joining the Legion.
He said: “I write to you as a long-term member of Lurgan branch of the Royal British Legion who is concerned at those from outside the area who are joining the branch for political reasons.
“I have been moved to put my views in writing following a recent thank you event to recognise the people who volunteered for the Legion at the Poppy Appeal collection.
“For me, and I am sure many others The Royal British Legion represents the staunch support of our armed services past and present and has never ever been a political organisation.
“Our branch should never feel as if it is a cold house for anyone to join, but I feel strongly that it should be a branch for the people of Lurgan, it always has been – why should this change?
“If we are not careful those who live well outside the area will continue to join for political reasons and not because they have any historical or family ties to those brave men and women from Lurgan who served their country, or those who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we may live in peace.”
When contacted by the ‘MAIL’ Ms Lockhart, said: “This is a very disappointing story which is being churned by someone who is clearly more concerned about making a political point than advancing interest of the Royal British Legion, Lurgan and Brownlow Branch at heart. At a time when membership of is of utmost importance I am astounded that someone anonymously would bring this directly to the Lurgan Mail rather than approach me personally or go through the appropriate complaints procedure.
“I joined the charity side of the Royal British Legion recently of which £13 of membership goes to London to help with front line services for our serving, and retired soldiers and their families, £2 of which goes locally to administration costs.
“I have and always had a very keen interest in the work of the Royal British Legion and am on record playing a very active role locally having assisted in raising in excess of £10,000 for charities such as the Poppy Appeal, ABF Soldiers Charity, Help for Heroes and AAV. For the first time ever this year I personally took to the streets and collected alongside the poppy collectors and I am actively encouraging young people to take up this challenge next year.
“Contrary to their insinuations I have several family members who have for many years served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and have risked their lives in some of the darkest days within our province. I have been and will continue to be committed to helping our military personnel whether they be from Lurgan, from Portadown, from Belfast, from Fermanagh or wherever they come from. They need our support more than ever given the lasting effects that the Troubles in Northern Ireland have had on our local personnel and the many who have and continue to serve on the battlefield right across our world.”
No one from the Lurgan branch of the Royal British Legion was prepared to comment on the issue.