CAIN Web Service
Submission by Marie Smyth to the
Northern Ireland Commission on Victims
VIOLENCE: [Menu] [Reading][Summary][Background] [Chronology] [Incidents]
The Cost of the Troubles Study: [Menu]
People affected by the troubles
- what is the scale of the problem?
Since 1969, 3,585 people have been killed in Northern Ireland. This means
that at very least 6,800* people have the experience of one of their immediate
family - parent or sibling - being killed in a troubles-related incident.
According to the official figures over 40,000 people have been injured
in the troubles, although this is likely to be a conservative figure. There
is not readily available data on how many of this 40,000 suffer from major
disability as a result of the troubles.
If we take deaths in the troubles as an indicator (it is likely that
injuries and trauma follow the same pattern as deaths) we find:
91% of those killed were male;
37% were under the age of 24, 53% were under the age of 29, and 74% were
under the age of 39;
Civilians - those without affiliation to the security forces or paramilitary
organisations - constitute the largest group amongst those killed - 53%.
Security forces from outside Northern Ireland are the next highest percentage
- 14.5% followed by Northern Ireland security forces - 14.3%. Within the
Northern Ireland security forces, the RUC account for almost 300 deaths,
almost 50% more than RIR/UDR deaths. Republican paramilitaries account
for 12.5% of those killed, and Loyalist paramilitaries for just over 3%;
More Catholics than Protestants have been killed. The death rates for civilians
are 3.01 per 1,000 population for Catholics and 1.26 per 1,000 for Protestants.
If we include RUC deaths, the rates become 2.5 per 1,000 for Catholics
and 1.9 for Protestants. If we exclude those killed by paramilitaries on
their own side (Catholics killed by Republican paramilitaries and Protestants
killed by Loyalist paramilitaries) then the rate becomes 2.3 for Catholics
and 1.4 for Protestants;
Republican paramilitaries have killed almost 59% of the total killed 704
of whom were civilians, Loyalist paramilitaries have killed almost 28%
of whom 818 were civilians, and the security forces have killed just over
11%, 204 of whom were civilians, with the British army accounting for over
9% of that total;
Over 41% of those killed lived in postal districts BT11, 12, 13, 14, 15,
48 and BT35. Over 48% of those killed in the troubles were killed in those
same districts - North and West Belfast, Derry Londonderry City and South
There is some overlap between the "victim" and "perpetrator" categories:
some victims go on to join paramilitary organisations, at least partly
due to their experience of victimhood.
If we can generalise from all this, we conclude that the troubles
have been a killer of young males from North and West Belfast, Derry
Londonderry or the border areas, and who are rather more likely to be Catholic.
This is also the group, which is among the most likely to become perpetrators
of acts of violence.
APPROACHES TO THE ISSUE
All discussions about "victims" of the Troubles run the risk of becoming
politicised in the following ways. Acknowledgement of the damage done to
a particular grouping or community can seem to some as an admission of
defeat, which will gladden their enemies, and so is to be avoided. Conversely,
acknowledgement of such damage can be a way of highlighting the wickedness
of those who are responsible for the attacks, and so can become a political
weapon. All of this runs the risk of compounding the damage done to those
who have been hurt. It is of crucial importance that all discussion about
"victims" or people affected is shifted onto a humanitarian basis, based
on an inclusive concern about the human needs and the resources required
to meet them.
The importance of timing, especially in relation to the risk of the recurrence
of violence, is difficult to exaggerate. It has only become possible for
some people affected by the troubles to begin to address what has happened
to them when the cease-fires were announced. Maintaining a relative absence
of violence is crucial to the task of addressing the situation of those
affected by the troubles. Should there be a return to violence, it will
not be possible to take this work forward in the same way. People who have
been drastically affected by the troubles often live with high levels of
fear. It is only when this fear is reduced, and when an atmosphere of increased
safety is in place that it is possible to work constructively with the
issues of coming out of violence. This is not to say that people do not
have needs when violence is ongoing, but rather to point out that substantial
progress can only be made in the absence of violence. Therefore the peace
process and progress therein is at the heart of creating services and measures
to address the needs of those affected by the troubles
THE LEVEL OF NEED
The assumption that people "get over" such things in time is not true.
In the case of physical disablement, this is visibly not the case. One
study we conducted showed that roughly 50% of people still had symptoms
of emotional distress and things like sleep disturbance over 20 years after
they had been bereaved in the troubles. This means that the scale of the
problem may be very large. If we count only immediate family members,
there could be over 41,400* people in the population whose immediate family
death or injury in the trouble has directly affected, and who suffer distress
or emotional disturbance as a result. This figure does not include all
the eye-witnesses, neighbours, friends, extended family, co-workers and
so on who have been affected by deaths and injuries in the troubles. Not
all of this 41,400* need or require, for example, counselling. However,
the public acknowledgement of their suffering, and the provision of supportive
networks or services for those who need them is an important part of our
recovery as a society.
The converse of this is that some people who have been affected by the
troubles have developed their own way of coping with their situation, and
have found ways which work for them. Some of these ways involve not talking
about what has happened, or distancing themselves from anything which might
require them to think too deeply about what has happened, or to look at
the issues from another angle. This must be recognised, and people's right
not to participate must be recognised and supported.
Many of those affected by the troubles complain about their lack of control
over the use of television or still photography of the circumstances of
their loss of injury. The reprinting or broadcasting of such material can
be very distressing for families and those close to such incidents, and
currently little recognition is given to the distress caused by their use
without consultation with those closely involved. Many of those who have
been disabled have often been made dependent on benefit, and removed from
the job-market. Services for the disabled are often inadequate to their
needs, and can leave them bitter about their circumstances. Poverty is
also another by-product for many that have suffered in the troubles.
There is a particular need for the provision of an effective pain management
service to cater for those in chronic pain as a result of gunshot and shrapnel
There is also a need to support carers of those with disabilities acquired
as a result of the troubles. We estimate that around 100,000 people in
Northern Ireland live in households where someone has been injured in a
troubles-related incident. Some of these injuries were relatively minor,
but some have been severely disabling.
Certain groups of people have specific and different needs. For example,
members of the security forces who have been injured may suffer more from
isolation as a result of being unable to use civilian services, or join,
for example, voluntary groups for disabled people. Families whose members
have disappeared have a need for information about the bodies of their
relatives. Those living in areas where levels of troubles-related violence
has been high often have their lives made more difficult by repeated experiences
of troubles-related violence.
Many individuals and groups have a sense of injustice and grievance against
the paramilitaries, the authorities, the media, politicians, or the human
service organisations. The lack of acknowledgement or denial of their needs,
questioning of their rights to be considered sympathetically or the lack
of support for them after their bereavement, injury or loss has often exacerbated
Often the needs and wishes of one group are directly opposite to the needs
of another group. There are understandably strong feelings among those
injured by a particular grouping about, for example that grouping receiving
attention, services or sympathy. This means that the provision of services
according to need or the creation of, for example, a monument including
all names is unconscionable to some, while others consider such a step
as important to their own coming to terms with what has happened to them.
There has been an assumption that counselling is the appropriate and sometimes
only form of services required by those affected by the troubles. This
assumption is questionable. Many people are not in need of counselling,
but rather of some other service. Even some of those who could benefit
from counselling are reluctant to use counselling because of the stigma
attached and the implication that there is "something wrong" with the person
A small number of people only will need psychiatric, psychological or counselling
help. It is erroneous to assume that because so few require or want psychiatric
help that the general level of needs of those affected by the troubles
is low. Those who do not need or wish to use psychological or psychiatric
help often have other needs, such as needs for befriending, social support,
relief for carers, physiotherapy, pain relief, public recognition, legal
or financial advice, control over old footage or photographs of the incident
involving them or at least advance consultation about their use by the
media, or further information about the circumstances of the incident which
caused their suffering.
SERVICES TO THOSE AFFECTED BY THE TROUBLES
Many of us, including those providing services to vulnerable people have
operated during the troubles by not mentioning the troubles, not identifying
ourselves or our true responses to certain situations, and being cautious
or silent when troubles related issues were raised. This has meant that
there can be a "conspiracy of silence" in organisations about the effects
of the troubles. People are often fearful that if the issues are discussed,
it will be divisive and lead to conflict, so they are ignored.
Currently there is no specialist training available for psychiatrists,
psychologists, social workers, health visitors, general practitioners,
teachers and other professionals to prepare them for the kinds of effects
the troubles may have on their clients and patients, nor is there specific
training or information on the range of appropriate services or approaches
Currently, there is one trauma team based in Belfast, which caters for
the needs of people immediately after a major incident. This does not address
the long-term needs of people, not does it cater for individuals injured,
bereaved or traumatised in incidents where small number are involved.
Three is an acute shortage of psychiatric help for all adolescents, so
adolescents who require such help as a result of the troubles are unlikely
to receive it. There are only six beds available in Northern Ireland for
adolescents requiring in-patient psychiatric care. In 1994, 242 young people
were held in adult psychiatric wards, hardly the place for distressed adolescents.
Levels of outpatient support can be similarly totally inadequate. One adolescent
we know of in the North West was offered a fortnightly phone call from
a community psychiatric nurse as follow-up care after a serious suicide
Currently, the major service providers providing dedicated services for
those affected by the Troubles are in the voluntary sector. WAVE, whose
main service is befriending and home visiting throughout Northern Ireland
and who also provide a counselling service and facilities for children;
Survivors of Trauma, who are a locally based self-help group in North Belfast;
An Crann/ The Tree who listen and collect people's accounts of the troubles,
Cunamh, a locally based project in Derry Londonderry, CALMS a project which
offers training in stress management for local groups. Other voluntary
organisations, such as CRUSE and Victim Support, which have experience
of working in allied areas such as bereavement or the effects of crime,
began to become more involved in working with those affected by the troubles
after the cease- fires.
The system of financial compensation for those who have been bereaved,
injured or have had property damaged as a result of the troubles has also
caused some disquiet and distress. There are wide disparities between amounts
paid to those with apparently similar injuries. Compensation in the case
of injury or bereavement is based not on need but on loss sustained, and
is partly calculated according to loss of earnings. This means that some
have received little or no compensation where the victim was unemployed,
where others receive relatively large amounts. This is perceived as some
lives being regarded as more valuable than others are. There are strong
feelings amongst some that the system is unjust and insensitive.
Those suing for criminal damage to property have also found the system
of compensation unsatisfactory. Long delays in processing and paying claims,
together with interest payment incurred on loans taken to rebuild or repair
business premises has caused financial difficulty to claimants, and in
some cases the collapse of businesses.
Where do we go from here?
Any initiative in this area carries a heavy emotional charge, and those
injured and bereaved have often been used to further political agendas,
sometimes at the expense of their own welfare. It is imperative that any
new initiatives on so-called victims of the troubles (we prefer the term
"people affected by the troubles") avoid further misuse of people's suffering
Provision that has been made elsewhere has fallen into the trap of raising
unrealistic expectations on the part of those who have suffered, only to
have their disappointment added to their suffering.
For these reasons the following suggestions
That all measures and initiatives are based on a clear understanding
the losses sustained by many people in the troubles are irrecoverable,
and that no measure or compensation can possibly make good that loss. Everything
that we can do is destined to be inadequate. We cannot bring back the dead,
restore the maimed, or turn the clock back. Measures should not therefore
be based on principles of restorative justice, but rather on the
principles of meeting existing and future need.
That the timing of such proposals be carefully considered, that nothing
is rushed into and that a lengthy inclusive and exhaustive period of consultation
with groups in the community is engaged in before any decisions are made
or announced. This period of consultation is important given the rate of
progress on the political process, and the lack of any settlement. All
developments in relation to commemoration are dependent on a cessation
of violence for the continued involvement of certain categories of people
affected by the Troubles. Should violence recur, certain people may well
consider their safety to be jeopardised by continued involvement in cross-community
and other measures designed to commemorate or record the situation to victims.
We can only hope that the politicians will recognise that their most important
contribution to the welfare of victims is to ensure, through their negotiations,
a permanent end to violence.
For many people who have suffered in the troubles, one of the casualties
was their trust in outside authorities. This should be recognised by such
authorities, and confidence building measures aimed at those who have been
bereaved and injured should be composed of the democratic involvement of
this group in decision making about the kinds of services and initiatives
to be embarked on. Only in this way can trust be built slowly.
There is also a need for people in authority to listen and acknowledge
the discontent and anger felt by certain people. It is imperative that
the expression of this anger does not lead to defensiveness or reaction
on the part of the authorities. Careful listening and acknowledgement,
and where appropriate expressions of regret may be all that is required.
It would be extremely helpful if authorities (and politicians) would recognise
the anger and rage that are part of the response of those who have suffered
most. In our view, this anger must be respected, without getting involved
in conflict or arguments with people. People have a right to be angry and
to express it, and it is a small enough service to listen and acknowledge
the depth of their feelings.
AIMS AND GOALS
It is also suggested that there is a need for clarity and transparency
about the long-term goals of any initiative on the situation of those affected
by the troubles. It is suggested that the goal of such initiatives must
be linked to the overall political process and should be:
To contribute to reconciliation through healing
of individual and collective wounds and hurts
This could be achieved through initiatives which manifest:
The following practical measures and stages are suggested:
the support of the society for those bereaved, injured or otherwise
the recognition of the society of the suffering and loss sustained during
the acknowledgement of the sense of injustice of the suffering, which
is commonly held but differently understood in the various sections of
people who have suffered
the remembrance of those who have lost their lives for what they believed
to be just causes
the practical support of those who have been injured in the Troubles
the specific acknowledgement of the suffering of civilians and non-combatants
a new willingness to acknowledge the suffering of people from all walks
of life and sections of the community
a new willingness on the part of all of us to take responsibility for
our part in creating and maintaining a society which has hurt so many of
The regret and remorse of all of us about the hurts that has been caused.
A BODY TO PROMOTE SERVICES TO THOSE AFFECTED BY
In parallel to the measures suggested above, any process should not
ignore the direct practical needs of those affected by the Troubles. There
has been a total absence of public policy in relation to this area, a total
lack of professional training and very little or no support for initiatives
in the voluntary sector. This is partly due to a culture of silence and
denial around issues related to the Troubles, which was part of our survival
and coping strategies whilst the violence was ongoing. There is a need
for an independent public body to act as a catalyst to "ginger up" existing
service providers to make good the deficits in their policy, training and
provision for people affected by the troubles.
Part of this will involve the re-orientation of professional and organisational
cultures, which is long term work. However, in the shorter term, as their
part of the peace process, service providers must now be encouraged to
re-examine their own orientation and practice, and to develop policy and
practices which reflect the past and are appropriate to the new situation.
Since the cease-fires, new needs have emerged and people have felt safe
to come forward and seek services. We can expect that this trend will continue
for some time to come.
Such a body could be composed of:
representatives of service providers who are open to re-evaluation and
re-examination of their services to those affected by the troubles
representatives of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, teaching,
social work, nursing,
representatives of diverse victim advocacy groups - and the proceedings
must be designed to empower them to participate
Such a body would have the remit of examining the current provision for
those affected by the troubles in terms of :
Medical services (including implications for medical training)
Psychological, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric services (including implications
for training in these fields)
Aids adaptations and support for carers of people disabled in the troubles.
Support groups and networks and the financial and other support for them
Provision within the education system, (including the management in schools
of behavioural sequelae in children, the implications for teacher training,
literacy and educational performance, and special educational provision)
PROPOSAL FOR A MONUMENT
Such a body would be empowered by central government to report to them,
and to liaise with and receive co-operation from the various professional
bodies and government departments in preparing their reports and recommendations.
Funding to support innovations, additional training and the improvement
of services to those affected by the troubles must be made available to
ensure that the work of such a body is actualised. Such a body could also
be granted fund-raising powers, and could seek such funding in Europe or
It is tempting for some to rush into establishing measures which "put the
past behind us." However, the danger is that any such measures are premature.
Many tensions still exist, and the talks process has not arrived at any
settlement or conclusion. Furthermore, even were a settlement in place,
the proposal to erect a memorial for those killed in the Troubles, whilst
emanating from a laudable desire to commemorate and honour the memory of
people killed, has great potential for increasing division and conflict.
The issue, for example of whose names might be engraved on such a monument
is highly contentious, yet exclusion of some names, and who makes such
decisions to exclude, will not contribute to building an inclusive and
peaceful society. For these reasons, it appears that to pursue the construction
of a monument with names at this stage is not advisable. Should such a
project be pursued at a later stage, it might be advisable to focus on
a symbolic monument, which does not contain names.
Such memorials have been constructed in situations where there are has
been a clearer demarcation between enemy and friend, and where the enemy
is often from another country. In Northern Ireland, the conflict is much
more characteristic of ethnic conflict, and so the task of commemorating
the dead is much more complex and riven with hazards.
For this reason, it is important that the work involved in establishing
measures to commemorate the dead or consider the situation of victims should
move very slowly indeed, to avoid any pre-emptive action, and that generous
amounts of time devoted at every stage of such work to public consultation.
It is important that the process is informed by a set of principles and
not deflected from those principles, yet is flexible and sensitive enough
to respond to public responses and changes in the political context.
It is important that a set of aims and principles on which such work is
based are in the public domain, and are adhered to by those embarking on
the work (see 36 above for a suggested set of principles.) This is crucial
in order to avoid the inevitable to direct such work in a particular direction,
and away from "the other side."
It is particularly welcome that the Victims Commission is considering a
wide range of ways in which the dead can be commemorated. Whilst the establishment
of, for example, a public work of art will be important to certain sections
of the community, it is important that commemoration is a process which
is diverse enough to be accessible to people in all walks of life, and
with widely differing priorities. The commissioningof a public work of
art runs the risk of criticism on the grounds that the money would be better
spent on those who have suffered. For this reason, a range of initiatives
catering for a wider constituency is important.
Commemorating the dead could be approached in a creative way, and in a
manner, which directly addresses the individuals, groups, and communities
worst affected by the Troubles. Forms of memorial which are socially relevant
and which document and educate us about our differences and the diversity
of our experiences could be included. The following is a possible package
of measures which would meet these requirements:
ESTABLISHING AN INDEPENDENT PUBLIC BODY: Public
consultation & fund-raising. The establishment of an independent
public body which would carry forward the work of commemoration and integration
of the lessons of the past would be an important first step. Such a body
must be independent, since the role of government in the conflict is not
perceived to be neutral by all parties. This body could have the following
to publicly consult and make recommendations and oversee the establishment
of a Museum of the Troubles (see 45 below); a permanent monument to those
killed (see 52 below);
to oversee the awarding of scholarships, bursaries (see 51 below);and
to oversee and manage the support to communities (see 49 below)
to seek international funding for such a project, which would be potentially
very attractive to international funders.
The composition of such a body could be a mixture of appointments and nominees
from with various communities and other organisations with the relevant
credibility, expertise and diversity. It is crucial that such a Board is
representative of communities (both geographical and communities of interest)
worst affected by the Troubles, as well as containing the relevant technical
and other expertise.
ESTABLISHING A MUSEUM OF THE TROUBLES:
I would recommend that consideration be given to announcing the establishment
of a museum of the Troubles, to which individuals, groups and communities
be invited to contribute. Such a museum could act as an archive and as
an educational and research resource and which could be open to the public
and to schools. Contributions from, for example the Political Collection
of the Linenhall Library, An Crann/ The Tree, and The Cost of the Troubles
Study could immediately provide the backbone of such a collection.
PUBLIC & COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION: Invitations
to anyone who wished to contribute to such a museum could be issued, and
the collection set up in such a way that it can contain conflicting and
opposing perspectives, which can be cross-referenced to each other. These
views would include those outside Northern Ireland whose lives have been
touched by the Troubles.
Technical and research support to communities
other parties who wished to create local displays or commemoration, and/or
who wished to contribute to the museum's collection would be an important
part of the museum staff's brief. Staff appointed should be capable of
work in local communities as well as having research, display or historical
expertise. This support should include financial support for communities
in order to assist them establish appropriate local memorial events or
Some geographical communities and communities of interest are beginning
at this stage to "write their own history" in terms of what has happened
to them during the Troubles. This is a very important development, which
should be supported. By collecting such information, the past is being
re-organised in a way that could be an important part of healing. This
might eventually facilitate such communities in becoming more focussed
on a future which is informed rather than determined by the past.
CONTAINING DIVERSE VIEWS AND OPPOSING ACCOUNTS:
It would be important that a variety of views, some of them opposing, could
be contained in such a Museum, and that sensitive curating and cross-referencing
be a part of standard practice. There are some models of good practice
in this area, such as Brian Lacey's Siege Museum in Derry Londonderry.
In our experience of mounting public exhibitions and in conducting research
on troubles-related issues, it is also crucially important the those making
contributions to public displays or exhibits are fully engaged and consulted
about issues such as anonymity, libel and the dissemination of material
that is likely to jeopardise safety. Delicate negotiations and tough decisions
are part of this work. The right of the individual to speak out with immunity,
versus the legal and moral requirements on those displaying the material
is part of the balancing act. However, the end result is more than worth
the effort. Making publicly accessible information about the views, experiences
of the "other" community to people have proved to be of great interest
to people who would otherwise have no access to such information. One can
envisage such a museum containing various rooms in which diverse materials
are displayed and that the overall museum contains a microcosm of the Northern
OUTREACH Such a museum could also act
as a proactive educational resource, which encourages the re-examination
of the history of the troubles in ways which allow us to learn from the
past, and apply those lessons in designing the future. Schools programmes,
such as the existing EMU (Education for Mutual Understanding) programmes
could be involved in using such a facility. It could also be used by further
and higher educational programmes in Peace Studies, Politics, Anti-Sectarian
Training, History and other forms of civic education.
An important part of such a project would be an out-reach programme for
communities, voluntary organisations, and others. This programme could
take the spirit - if not all the contents - to the more inaccessible parts
of Northern Ireland, where people have suffered as a result of the Troubles,
or where people may wish to increase their understanding.
BURSARIES AND SCHOLARSHIPS: Various
memorial scholarships be established, perhaps in association with the Museum
project so that:
resources are directed at increasing educational opportunities for those
most affected by the Troubles, and that
scholarship and ethical and relevant research on the needs of those affected
by the troubles, for example the development of pain management methods,
is encouraged and supported.
A MONUMENT: Part of the brief of the
Board of the independent body could be to investigate and report on the
establishment of a permanent monument to those killed in the troubles.
This brief could include recommendations about the method by which it is
designed, its location, and how the public might be involved in decision-making
about it. If such a public monument is to be constructed, the design might
be selected from entrances to a public competition. If the commission is
to be given to professional artists, it is important to avoid associating
it more with one part of the community than another. Consideration might
be given to commissioning a consortium of local artists whose origins lie
in the various parties to the conflict, and who are willing to work together
in a manner which produces a monument which represents the tensions, diversity
and possibility for creative collaboration between these parties.
Project Director, The Cost of the Troubles Study
Research Fellow, INCORE
December 3, 1997.
* Calculations on estimated numbers of immediate family are based
on the average household size for Northern Ireland (2.9) less the member
of the household killed or injured. We calculate the total number of immediate
household members affected by bereavement or injury by multiplying the
average household size minus one by the total number killed and injured.
(See also a second submission by Marie Smyth
made in the light of the 'Good Friday' Agreement)
Last Modified 4 May 1999
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