The plight of homeless Defence Forces veterans was highlighted in Cork yesterday at the ‘Sleeping Flags’ campaign organised by the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (ONE).
Originally held in Dublin, the campaign aimed at raising public awareness and funds for the former Irish Defence Forces members ONE supports was extended to Cork, Limerick, Galway and Athlone this year.
On Patrick St, a specially created, tricolour sleeping bag was hung up as ONE members gathered to raise much-needed funds for the charity.
“We have our tricolour sleeping bag here and that’s to signify veterans sleeping on the streets.
“We’ve had a number of veterans die on the streets which is where this initiative is coming from,” Diarmuid Higgins, national president of ONE, told.
Mr Higgins, who served in the navy for 21 years, estimates that there are currently 15 to 20 veterans sleeping on the streets in Cork.
The national rollout of the Sleeping Flags campaign yesterday was held in a bid to highlight what the charity describes as “the severity of the real-life situation for many Defence Forces veterans”.
Paddy Mulley, secretary for the southern area council of ONE and secretary of the Cork city branch, explained the origins of the campaign.
“Back in the 80s there were a few veterans who were found to have passed away on the streets of Dublin and it was decided by our organisation that something needed to be done.
“We started a campaign called Sleeping Flags basically to generate funds to house the homeless veterans.
“A lot of people leave the Defence Forces without a pension and we would be catering for those and we have other people who would have complex problems and we would be catering for those.
“Basically, we’re putting a safety net underneath veterans in return for the service they have given the State,” he said.
Part of the services ONE offers is home visitations, where hardship amongst veterans is clear to see.
“We do home visitations ourselves in the city and there are a lot of people in really substandard living conditions,” Mr Mulley said.
Difficulty adjusting to civilian life is one of the reasons why veterans can struggle and ultimately fall into homelessness, Mr Mulley explained.
“A lot of people when they enter the Defence Forces, irrespective of how long or short they stay, they’re institutionalised,” he said.
“Some of them don’t because they’re out in the community and they marry and they have families and all of that, but a lot of them don’t and that institutionalisation carries over into civilian life when they’re discharged.”
Meanwhile, Mr Higgins described service life as “unique” and said that many veterans are afraid to ask for support.
“There’s an attitude of ‘I’m a soldier or I’m a sailor, I don’t need help’,” he said.
However, veterans who are struggling are strongly encouraged to avail of the services on offer.
ONE has a network of 15 veteran support centres, 37 branches and four residential homes in the country.
In Cork, plans are afoot to create another home, following the opening of the facility in Cobh last year.
“Building works will start straight away with the plan that it will hopefully be open before the end of the year,” Mr Higgins said.
“We’re being supported by the city council on that.
“It’s ideally located, it’s close to Collins Barracks.
“We also have a veterans support centre in the Camp Field which was opened late last year where ex-servicemen and women can drop in for a cup of coffee, a chat and get some advice on what services are available,” he said.
The charity is currently appealing for donations to help develop the new facility at St Luke’s.
To find out more about ONE or to donate to the charity visit www.one-veterans.org.