A former Ulster Unionist MP has been appointed as the first Veterans’ Commissioner for Northern Ireland.
Danny Kinahan said he is “honoured and proud” to have been given the role by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.
He has pledged to ensure that veterans have a strong voice and can receive support.
The new role was agreed in the New Decade, New Approach deal to act as an independent point of contact to support and enhance outcomes for veterans.
Mr Kinahan said there are 150,000 veterans living in Northern Ireland.
“We all too often just remember their service in Afghanistan, Iraq, and our own Troubles, but forget about their work in other fields: tackling Ebola in Africa, the protection of shipping in the Gulf, the control and rescue of migrants, as well as the work done by them in African game parks protecting wildlife from poachers,” he said.
“Our Armed Forces are active in numerous countries throughout the world offering advice, help and training, often putting their lives at risk so that we all can enjoy ours.
“We should be proud of them and recognise their skills and the sacrifices they and their families have made. We should welcome them back into society when they retire, ensure they are not forgotten are not put at any disadvantage. When they need help it should be there for them immediately.
“My role as Veterans’ Commissioner is to ensure that this is the case and that coordinated and effective delivery exists for all those who have served. I look forward to ensuring that this is so.”
Mr Kinahan served with the Blues and Royals before starting a career in politics and was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly for six years, and also represented South Antrim at Westminster.
He said he will be stepping away from local politics to focus on the new role.
The appointment is for three years, ending on August 31 2023.
First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the move and made contact with Mr Kinahan on Thursday following the announcement of his appointment.
She described the role as a “positive but long overdue step toward ensuring the needs of Northern Ireland’s large and vibrant demographic of Armed Forces veterans are practically understood and addressed”.
“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,” she said.
“Local veterans should not be at a disadvantage compared to their colleagues elsewhere in the UK, or indeed other citizens, in accessing a range of important services.
“Ultimately the fair and appropriate treatment of our former armed services personnel will help to underpin Northern Ireland’s strong and active contribution to our nation’s defence for generations to come.
“I urge the new Commissioner to engage proactively with veterans and their advocates to take the first step toward delivering on this vision in the coming days.”