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Recruitment begins for Northern Ireland Veterans Commissioner

Doug Beattie

A recruitment campaign has been launched for a Northern Ireland veterans commissioner.

MLA and former soldier veteran Doug Beattie welcomed the move, saying the position was needed to deal with the particular issues veterans deal with in Northern Ireland.

"They will have to understand what veterans have to deal with in Northern Ireland," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"They will have to work for all communities and across the border. This is not just constrained to our small part of the UK. I work with many in the Republic that served in the military - some have taken their own lives - and they need support.

It is not about getting preferential treatment, but ensuring veterans are not disadvantaged. Doug Beattie

He said there were many veterans in Northern Ireland afraid to mention their service for fear of who would learn of their background meaning they lost out on health, housing or educational benefits and were "suffering in silence".

"It is not about getting preferential treatment, but ensuring veterans are not disadvantaged."

First Minister Arlene Foster also welcomed the recruitment campaign launch, describing it as a "fantastic step forward not only for those living in Northern Ireland who served in our Armed Force but also for their families".

"This commissioner has been something we have pressed the Government to act on because our veterans need a dedicated champion who will work with the public, private and voluntary sectors to ensure their needs are understood and addressed," she added.

"The key focus of the new commissioner must be the full implementation of, including a statutory duty to comply with, the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland.”

The appointment of a commissioner was pledged in the New Decade, New Approach document which brought about the restoration of power sharing at the start of the year.

The position will be a three-year appointment with a salary of £306 a day plus expenses. It is envisaged the person will work for around 100 days a year equating to a £30,000 a year salary.

In its advertisement, the Northern Ireland Office described it as a "challenging and rewarding opportunity".

It said the successful applicant will be a "visible leader and exemplar, establishing a strong network and creating a vision of future service provision for veterans in Northern Ireland which supports the realisation of the ambition shared across the United Kingdom to be the best place in the world to be a veteran".

The key focus of the new commissioner must be the full implementation of, including a statutory duty to comply with, the Armed Forces Covenant in Northern Ireland. Arlene Foster

The commissioner, the job description stated had to be sensitive to the "unique political and historical context in Northern Ireland" as well as being able to foresee and overcome "barriers to progress".

They will also "work effectively with a wide range of individuals and who has good judgment, resilience, sensitivity and vision of a high order.

Doug Beattie - while not ruling himself out for the position - said it was not "necessarily a good idea" for the commissioner to be politically aligned.

"If you have a political affiliation that makes life very difficult," he said, "but there will be exceptions. It is an important role and I will have to look at it.

"They will have to command respect from veterans and put their name and face out there and work hard for them.

"They will also have to be a vital link between veterans and the Executive and with Westminster. While military matters are not devolved other matters around education, health and housing are.

"When you talk of veterans it is not necessarily those that served in Northern Ireland. But those that may have served in the Falklands, or Korea.

"When you leave the military and enter civilian life it can be hard to transition and it's not easy when you feel half the population are against you."

Mr Beattie said there were many veterans who did not take up benefits offered to them on leaving the military because it meant they had to state their service, including personal details such as an address and they were not sure of the security of who they were handing the material too.

"Some veterans live in the shadows and we need to find a way to normalise military service more into our society. There are many simple things that a local commissioner can offer simple solutions to, which may not be an issue elsewhere in the UK."

He also said when he left the service he had difficulties in identifying his own skills that could transfer to civilian life and which a commissioner would be ideally placed to provide support on.

"For some they have been in the military for a few years and for others it has been their whole life," he added.

"The commissioner needs to understand the military, how it has changed over the years and also how society has changed."

He said it was important the successful applicant was supported across the political specturm.

"If Sinn Fein want to represent all the people of Northern Ireland - or the DUP, UUP or Alliance - then they have to represent veterans and they should welcome this.

"This stretches across communities and even the border."

The closing date for the position is May 22 and the commissioner expected to take up office in the autumn.

Belfast Telegraph