New NI Veterans’ Commissioner Danny Kinahan to tackle mental health and Troubles legacy
Northern Ireland’s new Veterans’ Commissioner has a lengthy ‘to do’ list as the former army officer begins a battle to ensure ex-military personnel have their voices heard.
Mental health, public perceptions and the legacy of the Troubles are all big issues being addressed by Danny Kinahan over the next three years.
Having served a Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim between May 2015 and May 2017, Mr Kinahan has many well-placed contacts to call on – but first he has to make contact with the wide range of groups and charities working with military veterans across Northern Ireland.
“My remit is to be the voice of, and to look after the needs of veterans,” he told the News Letter.
“It is to make sure that you are available to veterans and that you are listening to what they are saying to make the system work better. To make sure I know what they feel on every issue so that I can brief government, whether that’s Stormont or Westminster.
“But the first goal is to get in touch with all veterans. I have no database. All of the registered charities and regimental associations have different databases, and we know that there are about 150,000 veterans out there.
“And that is before you talk about their wives and families. I have to try to make contact with them so my first aim is to get a note out to every veteran, whether that is by email, by text or by other means, to let them know that our team exists.”
Mr Kinahan has no official remit to assist former UK service personnel living in the Irish Republic, but will still do what he can to help.
“My brief allows me to go anywhere that helps Northern Ireland veterans,” he said.
“We have to produce long-term plans around how we are going to look after veterans and to meet their needs.
“I’ve got to listen to them and I’ve got to try to get them working together. The main message I am getting from them is that they want people to think of them positively.
“They have all gone out and served the people. They want to carry on doing that and they have great skills. They don’t want to be demonised by small sections of the press and others, as they tend to do.
“I am part-time and in theory it is for 110 days [per year], but I have no other role and I am going to give this every second I can.”
Mr Kinahan said the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland was another important issue and that one of his major tasks “is to try to ensure that whatever is promised in the Armed Forces Covenant is legislated in a way that makes it possible to happen here, without it being blocked”.
Commenting on mental health issues affecting veterans, Mr Kinahan said: “It is incredibly high on my list of priorities.
“It is incredibly important. It’s not just a military problem – it is a society problem.
“We will sit down and look what we deliver on the ground, to see if we are doing as well as we can. Are our charities all talking to each other?
“Covid hasn’t helped and the various charities are now all short of funding, so please give generously to whichever military charity you favour”.
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