The results of the first ever survey into the public attitudes towards the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland were outlined at the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey seminar in Belfast today.
Attendees heard that one third of the Northern Ireland population have a high to very high opinion of how the UK Armed Forces acted during the Troubles, and 42 percent of the Northern Ireland population have a high to very high opinion of the UK Armed Forces today. One quarter of the population had a low to very low opinion of the UK Armed Forces during the Troubles compared to only 12 percent who share this opinion currently in 2017.
When asked about veteran wellbeing, half of the people in Northern Ireland believed that alcohol problems are more likely in someone who has been in the Armed Forces relative to someone who has not and 63 percent of people in Northern Ireland believed that mental health problems are more likely in someone who has been in the Armed Forces. Evidence on the mental health of veterans in Northern Ireland is forthcoming, but in other regions of the UK, rates of mental health issues in Armed Forces veterans is almost equal to that of the general population.
A large majority of the Northern Ireland public (80%) have not heard of the Armed Forces Covenant (AFC), however responses to individual scenarios consistently indicated support for its principles. The majority (77%) of the Northern Ireland public indicated strong support for a specialist mental health service being provided for military veterans living in the region with only 12 percent disagreeing; the remainder neither agreed nor disagreed.
Principal investigator Professor Chérie Armour, Ulster University Associate Dean of Research and Impact and Director of the Institute of Mental Health Sciences commented:
“For the very first time we have been able to explore public attitudes in Northern Ireland towards the UK Armed Forces, veteran’s wellbeing and service provision. Key to our results are that the largest majority of the public reported they respect the UK Armed Forces and that they would be supportive of a specialist mental health service for veterans living in the region. I will release a subsequent report on June 22nd which has examined the need for a specialist veterans centre in Northern Ireland from the perspective of both veterans and veteran service providers.”
Results varied according to age of respondent. The most positive attitudes were held by the oldest age group of 65 years onwards, with the lowest percentage of positive attitudes in the youngest age group.
The research also explored whether people believed it would be fair for those in the Armed Forces to receive extra support with health and social care issues where they may have been disadvantaged by their service. The majority of people agreed that in a number of scenarios it would be fair for veterans to receive ‘special treatment’.
Co-investigator Dr Bethany Waterhouse Bradley, Ulster University Lecturer in Social Policy commented:
“The research findings show notable progress in public attitudes toward the Armed Forces in the region versus opinion of how they acted during the Troubles, which is a positive sign in a post conflict society. In a time when political issues can be very polarising, the findings show a general positivity towards supporting veterans, even amongst many whose opinion towards how the Armed Forces acted in the Troubles were low. The findings show those who have more contact with people in the Armed Forces are more likely to have positive opinions, showing the value of engagement and integration in improving good relations in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Paula Devine, who is Coordinator of the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey and is based in Queen’s University Belfast noted:
“This is the 20th year of the Life and Times Survey, which records the attitudes of 1,200 people across Northern Ireland to key policy issues affecting our lives. This research shows a range of public opinion, reflecting different experiences of Armed Forces and of the Troubles. These findings provide a vital evidence base to inform ongoing debates about the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant.”
The full report can be viewed at http://www.niveteranstudy.org/public-attitudes-to-the-armed-forces-in-ni enable this first-time survey of public attitudes towards the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, as part of the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.