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Veterans' Commissioner Danny Kinahan in call for new 'middle way' on legacy

The former MP says balance must be found between amnesty and prosecutions

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New role: Danny Kinahan claims system is biased against former members of British military

New role: Danny Kinahan claims system is biased against former members of British military

PA

New role: Danny Kinahan claims system is biased against former members of British military

Northern Ireland's new Veterans' Commissioner Danny Kinahan has called for "a middle way" to be found between an amnesty and prosecutions for Troubles killings.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph he claimed the current prosecution system seemed "very lopsided" against Army veterans.

He said "a different way forward" must be found that didn't involve "wasting fortunes" in court cases.

When asked if the unsolved murders of soldiers should still be investigated, Mr Kinahan said that should be up to individual bereaved families.

He disputed figures that the majority of those killed by soldiers here were uninvolved civilians, and he said that veterans felt they were being demonised for protecting society from "the evils of terrorism".

Mr Kinahan revealed that he is trying to trace thousands of British Army veterans from the Republic who may need help.

And the former Ulster Unionist MP ruled out a return to political life. He lost his South Antrim seat to the DUP's Paul Girvan in 2017, and failed to win it back again last year. "I've done my time in politics," he said.

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Mr Kinahan also said that he had "no regrets" about selling his stunning ancestral home, Castle Upton in Templepatrick, last year. He is currently working in a Portakabin while he builds a new home in the grounds.

When asked if there should be an amnesty, Mr Kinahan said: "We need to do something different from what's happening at the moment. It seems very lopsided.

"The overwhelming message I'm getting from veterans is they'd like the past put behind them. They'd like to move on and stop being demonised.

"They see it as really hard when so many (paramilitaries) seem to have been let off through letters of comfort or royal pardons and it's not happening on their side.

"To many it looks like one side is continually searching for the military who have done something wrong, and we're not doing the same the other way round. We've let the masses of them off. Veterans feel it isn't a level playing field."

Mr Kinahan said that while the rule of law must be respected and everyone had the right to justice, a "new way forward" should be found to "stop taking people to court other than those who have really broken the law".

Asked if there should be continuing investigations and prosecutions in the unsolved cases of murdered soldiers, Mr Kinahan said it should be up to each individual bereaved family.

In the case of the IRA's 1982 Hyde Park bombing which killed four soldiers, the families were split, with some wanting prosecutions and some feeling it "opened up sores", he said.

When asked about Bloody Sunday prosecutions, Mr Kinahan said these should happen if a "legal case is put together", but he didn't think "it helps society any longer".

He added: "We have to find a new way forward and I'd rather we spent the money on looking after the victims and the veterans given that we're being told most cases will be unsuccessful."

A former captain in the Blues and Royals Regiment, Mr Kinahan was appointed as Northern Ireland's first Veterans' Commissioner two months ago. He will hold the post until at least 2023.

There are around 150,000 UK military veterans in Northern Ireland: 60,000 UDR and RIR; 10,000 Royal Navy and RAF, and the rest are ex-soldiers from other regiments.

Mr Kinahan said around 600 people from the Republic were currently serving in the British Army, Royal Navy or RAF.

"Thousands of military veterans live in the Republic, and my job is to reach those who need help," he said.

I want to get across that the armed services reflect the whole of society. We're not on one side. It's about Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh people. It's not about preferential treatment for ex-military personnel

Mr Kinahan's first week as Veterans' Commissioner involved meeting the family of Brett Savage, a 32-year-old former Royal Irish Regiment soldier who took his own life in August. He had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan.

His family have accused the Army of failing him. Mr Kinahan said: "The fact that Brett took his own life means that he was failed. Who failed him is what we have to establish to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"The family felt they were let down, I have to look into that and find out why and whom without blaming people, and make things work better."

Mr Kinahan added: "I want to find all the other possible Brett Savages and ensure they are supported.

"Every locality should have a hub or area where veterans can go knowing there's someone to put an arm around them and talk to them. There is terrific camaraderie between former service people."

The Veterans' Commissioner doesn't believe that the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant will in practice be controversial in Northern Ireland.

It stresses the Government's duty of care to its armed forces in return for the sacrifice made in the line of duty. Introduced in Britain, its incorporation into law here had been stalled amidst nationalist claims that it is discriminatory.

Mr Kinahan said: "I will do my best to make sure that everything available for veterans on the mainland is also available here.

"I want to get across that the armed services reflect the whole of society. We're not on one side. It's about Irish, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh people. It's not about preferential treatment for ex-military personnel. It's about ensuring they face no disadvantage."

Mr Kinahan said he had been involved in dialogue with nationalist politicians and hoped this would continue.

The watchdog said that British military veterans were "nowhere near as well looked after" as their American counterparts, who were made to feel "they are something special in society". He added that veterans' charities such as the Royal British Legion had seen their income halved during the pandemic.


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