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Armed Forces Covenant

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 2nd February 2017.

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Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP, South Antrim 4:01 pm, 2nd February 2017

It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and to follow Jack Lopresti. I very much agree with his sentiments, and the soft way with which he put it, that we really must start looking after our armed forces, particularly those who served in Operation Banner.

The military covenant is a fantastic document and a great idea. I congratulate all involved in trying to put it into place. I apologise today for speaking mainly on Northern Irish issues. Before I do, I would like to congratulate the Minister, who often gives me the opportunity to talk through these issues with him. He was going to visit Northern Ireland, but has had to delay because of our election. I want to congratulate in particular Mrs Trevelyan on the huge amount of work she does on this issue. She visited Northern Ireland, where she met victims suffering from appalling combat stress; she listened carefully to how things are in Northern Ireland. I welcome the fact that the covenant says that we will look at the regions and learn from each other. There is a great deal to learn from how Scotland and everyone does this. It is, however, right for me to concentrate on Northern Ireland, because so much there does not work.

I want to start with a story that was told to me many years ago, which always makes me think. Winston Churchill visited a Spitfire factory and the young, keen engineer told him, “We look at every aircraft when it comes back. We see where most of the holes are, and then we arm them and make them stronger.” Winston Churchill, quick as a flash, replied, “You are looking at the wrong aircraft. You are looking at the ones that come back.” What I am trying to get across is that we must all remember to think outside the box. We have the information in front of us about the 83% or 84%, but we have to make sure we consider the information we are currently not seeing. I believe there is a great deal we can learn from it.

We struggle in Northern Ireland because the structures are not properly in place. We heard from Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson about the difficulties in Northern Ireland. Working together, we now have someone on the reference group, but we need a non-political commissioner or champion who can work with all sides of the political spectrum in Northern Ireland and bring everyone together. As we know, one side in Northern Ireland sees all military and security forces as representing British imperialism. We have to show them the great work of our armed forces in the Mediterranean, picking up refugees fleeing Africa, and in dealing with Ebola. We need to show the mass of great work our armed services are doing.

In Northern Ireland, about 60,000 people served in the UDR and the security forces. I want to tell one more story. I was once valuing a painting near Dungannon. As I walked in, there was a photograph of the person I was meeting with all his colleagues in military uniforms. I said, “Gosh, you’re brave to have that photograph on display next to the door.” He took me out into the car park and pointed to about 20 houses nearby saying that in every single one of them the males had been shot by the IRA. That is the world they were living in. That is why people have mental difficulties. They never got a break. They did their duty, went back to work and lived with that threat.

That is why I have pushed so hard to make sure that we look after everyone. We need funding to help the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association to look after everyone, and we need to sort out who exactly is in charge of this in Northern Ireland. It is not the regular forces. The RFCA does most of it, but it needs resources. Councils do not have the support either. We have champions in every council, but they do not do housing or education; that is done up at Stormont, but it is not being delivered there because, as we have heard, the covenant is not seen as being in place in Northern Ireland. We had 197 shot in the UDR alone. We have to find a way of helping everyone. It needs someone to grit their teeth and look at how we make it work. If we look outside the box, I think we can get there.

I agree with everyone that we cannot have this witch hunt. I see myself as about as balanced as can be, but it is so biased.