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Armed Forces Covenant

Volume 616: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2016

2. If he will take steps to work with the Secretary of State for Defence to enhance future funding for the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland. (906758)

The armed forces covenant is making a real difference in Northern Ireland. Bids for funding from the armed forces covenant fund have been more successful in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK. Grants that have been made include £450,000 for Combat Stress to help veterans with mental health support, and £600,000 for the Somme Nursing Home in Belfast to enable it to add more bed spaces for veterans requiring nursing care.

I thank the Minister for his response. Northern Ireland is in 10th place among all the regions of the United Kingdom for small grants. Beyond the Battlefield has applied for LIBOR funding for four years running, with a substantial and detailed business plan, but it has not been successful. Does the Minister consider that to be fair? What steps will he take to address that imbalance, and to help groups and bodies such as Beyond the Battlefield to prepare successful applications?

I commend the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends for making sure that they have secured the largest proportion of the big pot, although I appreciate that he is now going after the small pot. His point about how to secure the funding is really important, and I am more than willing to sit down with him to talk about how we can support that package.

Will the Minister confirm that he and the Secretary of State have the determination and the will to eliminate all impediments to the full implementation—I do mean the full implementation—of the armed forces covenant in Northern Ireland?

I do not think I need to go further to reassure the hon. Lady than to say that I want the best possible services for our veterans. I want the covenant to be implemented in full, and I will do everything I can to ensure that that happens.

May I add to the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and to those of other hon. Friends representing Northern Ireland? When I went there as the Minister with responsibility for veterans, I was, frankly, deeply struck—perhaps only an English person can say this—by the complete lack of drive to ensure that all its local authorities signed up to the military covenant, as local authorities have done across the whole United Kingdom. There is no reason why the covenant should not be in effect in Northern Ireland just as much as it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I agree with my right hon. Friend that every council should participate. I get the opportunity to meet lots of councils, and I know that a lot of them are making a massive contribution, but where they are not I reassure her that I will push those councils to do so.

May I disagree with the Minister? The armed forces covenant is not working especially well in Northern Ireland. There is £100 million in the LIBOR funds for the whole military covenant. Can some of that be used to make sure that the mechanisms work—that is, that we get a nominee on to the covenant reference group, that the reserve forces and cadets association gets the support it needs to help all soldiers and that the champions get some help?

I know that there are opportunities to get on to the committee that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I will support him if he wants to do that. I know it is a big issue, and I say this as ex-services personnel myself: I want to make sure that this works, and that every partner—not just councils but health authorities and housing authorities—works together. But this is devolved, and it is up to the Executive to make it work. However, as someone with a history in this area, I will assist him in every way I can to ensure that that is delivered.

The shadow of the past hangs heavily over the questions that have been asked and there are many unquiet graves still on the island of Ireland. Bearing in mind that it is now 42 years since the atrocity of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and in view of the vote in the Dáil Éireann, what contact and communication is the Minister having with the Irish Government on this question?

I agree that that act 42 years ago was appalling, and offer my sympathies to the families of those who were lost. There is a continuing dialogue with the Irish Government and their Foreign Minister. We will continue that and I am quite happy to have discussions with the hon. Gentleman if he wants further information about the progress we are making.