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Response to the Bloomfield Report

This response has been collated by Marie Smyth on behalf of The Cost of the Troubles Study. The contents of this response is based on discussions within The Cost of the Troubles Study, conversations with other individuals and groups, and on two public meetings, one held in Derry Londonderry and organised by CALMS, and the other held in Belfast and organised by The Cost of the Troubles Study. Both meetings were aimed at canvassing a wider view in response to the Bloomfield report.

General remarks

The publication of the Bloomfield report, and the process that led up to its publication was very welcome. It was particularly welcome at a time when many of those who had been bereaved or injured in the Troubles were facing the many difficult challenges posed by the prospect of a peace agreement, that would inevitably entail concessions and changes that they would find painful and difficult. The report is the first official report that draws attention to the situation of those bereaved and injured in the Troubles, at a time when their interests were not being raised in the political arena. It is unfortunate that the issue of ‘victims’ has often been used by a range of political interests to make political points, but rarely has a humanitarian concern about their situation and needs been conveyed to those who have suffered by those in public office. The Bloomfield report hopefully heralds in a new era in this respect, - one that will be marked by the demonstration of commitment by all parties, including government to ensuring that the interest of those who have suffered most never again slip off the agenda.

The approach adopted by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield was also particularly welcome. For many people who had suffered enormously in the last three decades, it was the first time that they had had the opportunity to talk to anyone in authority about their experiences, and had the sense that they had been listened to. This meant that important information was collected from those who know most about the situation of those who had suffered most - the people themselves. The use of direct contact established new relationships between civil servants and communities and individuals, and this is most welcome. Such approaches and relationships are essential in building relationships of trust between government and those in communities. However, it is also important to recognise the size of Northern Ireland and the danger that those outside the Belfast area, or those not members of self-help groups may not have equal access to these connections. Regular public meetings throughout Northern Ireland that are advertised in the local press allow individuals who are not part of any group to participate and keep informed.

Dissemination of the Bloomfield report: We are also concerned that the Bloomfield report was not as widely disseminated as it might have been. At a public meeting in Derry Londonderry in early September 1998, on the issue of the effects of the Troubles, many people in attendance had not seen a copy of the report, nor did they know that a consultation was in progress. It is important that any subsequent initiatives receive widespread dissemination, and consideration should be given to mail shots of summaries, or of information on where reports etc. can be had, into every home as a way of ensuring this. Having said this, it must be pointed out that the staff of the Victims Liaison Unit work very hard to ensure their accessibility. An example of this was their flexibility on the period of consultation which was originally to extend to he end of August only. However, there is a limit to what can be achieved with their resources at their disposal, and we are concerned that there are many who have not had the opportunity to read the report and comment on it as a result of these resource limitations. In future consultations, publicity, and a programme of public meetings throughout Northern Ireland where the proposed recommendations are presented and discussed would be an important part of improving accessibility and participation. This is particularly important for those regions outside the Belfast area, and for those who are not members of self-help or other groups, or users of existing services.

Implementation of Recommendations:

We note that, whilst the report published report is still in a consultative process, some of the recommendations have been already been implemented. Measures aimed at alleviating the suffering of those bereaved and injured have played a key role in smoothing the path for political progress. The early release of prisoners is a contentious issue for many people and is particularly difficult for those who have lost loved ones or have been injured by those who are now being released. The announcement of expenditure on services to those bereaved and injured is clearly an important indication on the part of government that they recognise in a concrete and tangible way the suffering endured by those who have been harmed in the Troubles. However, it is our view that the commitment to those bereaved and injured would be better clarified by an indication of long-term and substantial funding for services in general, rather than the announcement of relatively small sums of expenditure to a small number of groups. Undoubtedly, there is a contradiction between being in a period in which the recommendations of the Bloomfield report are open to public consultation and some of those recommendations being implemented before the period of consultation is over. This has been understandable in one way, but nonetheless has been unhelpful in building relationships of trust between groups and the wider community. The manner of decision-making has not been transparent, nor have the mechanisms for obtaining funding been promulgated. This has led to a great deal of ill-feeling in both the statutory and voluntary sector, between those who did not receive funding in the last announcement, and who might apply for funding in the future, and those who did receive funding. The voluntary sector in particular is a tight-knit grapevine, and stories of how some groups were approached and invited to apply are currently circulating.  This undoubtedly leads to concerns about favoritism and the existence of an ‘inner circle’. In a climate already divided by sectarianism and by competition for scarce resources in both statutory and voluntary sectors, it is particularly important that all future decisions are taken openly, according to clearly outlined criteria and that the basis for all decisions are not  well founded, but are seen to be so.

Comments on the  Recommendations


1.  There should be a comprehensive review of the “fitness for purpose” of Criminal Injuries compensation in serving the needs of victims of violence

The widespread dissatisfaction with the compensation system has clearly been noted by the government, and the announcement of a review into the system is particularly welcome. The decision to base compensation calculations on lost earning in the case of criminal injuries cases has caused distress to many people, for example families of unemployed people who have been killed or injured and who have received no compensation. The large inequities between payments for similar injuries has also been a source of grievance and unhappiness.

There has also been concern about compensation for criminal damage, the awarding of which is dependant on certification by the Chief Constable. The graph below shows the level of applications compared with the level of certificates issued from 1969- 1997. Some people we have interviewed feel that they have been unjustly denied certificates, and have not been compensated for the loss of a business, for example, as a result. An opportunity to thoroughly review this system in all its aspects will be extremely helpful in addressing these issues.

 We are concerned, however, that the expectations of people who have been aggrieved for a long time about issues of compensation, might be unrealistically raised. It will be important to consider this in any review and in any subsequent determinations. We are also concerned about the manner in which  interested parties will learn about the review. Again, as stated earlier, there is a need for widespread dissemination of information about this process, and the convening of a number of publicly advertised public meetings throughout Northern Ireland, so that all interested individuals and parties can participate.

2.  Effective targeting of the special needs of victims should be a specific sub-set of the Targeting Social Need objective.

This recommendation is welcome, and some progress has been made in providing a framework within which such targeting could occur. It will also be important that an agreed and consistent method of targeting be arrived at, and is adopted comprehensively throughout the public and voluntary sector.  Assistance should also be made available at local level to groups in the community who wish to begin to address the situation of those bereaved and injured in the Troubles among their constituents. A means of providing information, technical support and advice to such groups would greatly serve the cause of integrating work on the effects of the Troubles with general community, youth and social provision.

3. A senior official should be designated to take immediate responsibility for a better co-ordinated approach to the problems of victims within Government.

This is one of the recommendations of the report on which views are sought, yet the recommendation has already been implemented. Mr. Adam Ingram was appointed Minister for Victims at the publication of the Bloomfield report. It is entirely welcome that an appointment at Ministerial level should be made to handle this important issue. Giving a prominent figure specific responsibility for victims is one way of ensuring that a specific watching brief is kept on all matters relating to the welfare of those bereaved and injured. However, there has been some disquiet that Mr. Ingram simultaneously hold the portfolio on security, and that this places him in a position where one of his areas of responsibility may conflict with the other. We would advocate a review of this situation, and should the government decide to make two separate appointments, we hope Mr Ingram will retain the Ministry for Victims.

4. The recommendations of the SSI-led study on “Living with the Trauma of the Troubles” should be energetically implemented by those interests to which they are directed.

Again this is a welcome recommendation. Particularly welcome was the recognition in the SSI report of the gaps in services and of the negative perception of statutory social services in many communities. Recommendations also include the establishment of regulation for counselling services. Whilst this is an important protection for the public, it is also important to recognise two things: the valuable work done in the voluntary sector, and the lack of specialist training available to professionals.  This would  indicate that the establishment of any regulation of counselling services should be conducted in partnership with the voluntary sector, and should recognise that standards of practice in both the statutory and voluntary services require monitoring.

 One point of departure is that the SSI report recommends that no specialist service be set up for those affected by the Troubles. Given that many existing mainstream services have often not specifically or openly addressed the effects of the Troubles on people, it is difficult to see how needs will be met, unless substantial resources are devoted to raising the issue within existing provision. It is erroneous to equate bereavement and trauma caused by disease or accident with that caused by armed conflict, since the two are not the same. To equate the two  is to deny, for example,  that suffering has been caused wilfully by those who live alongside us, and all of whom will shortly be released from prison. A recognition and knowledge of the specific effects of armed conflict on people, and the special problems faced by those, for example, bereaved in the Troubles, as opposed to those bereaved through illness or accidents, must underpin any system of provision. This will necessarily require knowledge of international best practice, since there is not sufficient expertise within Northern Ireland in this area. The dangers of “treating” the individual psychological effects whilst ignoring the wider context of the conflict are that the potential for reconciliation and resolution of community conflict are overlooked, and grievance and their intergenerational consequences lead to further conflict. The Troubles is not simply a series of individual problems, and cannot be treated as such.

5. Victims should be given the best comprehensive advice, locally differentiated, on where to turn for support.

This is also a welcome recommendation. It is important to recognise that the effects of the Troubles are not simply psychological, and that people may require help with financial, legal or other matters. It is also important to recognise that some of the help needed by people is not in existence, and that an audit of services within the voluntary, statutory and community sector which identified gaps would provide a basis for a strategic plan for service development in this area. It is also a matter of concern that those living outside the Belfast area have less access to services and advice. The development of peripatetic services may be necessary to service some areas. Particularly vulnerable are those who are not members of any of the established groups, and who do not wish to be identified publicly as in need of services as a result of the Troubles. This may involve current or former members of the security forces,  or the emergency services who are unable or unwilling to use services within their area of employment. The recognition of the special needs of these groups will be crucial to their ability to access and use services with confidence.

6. Victims must, as the barest minimum, be as well served as former prisoners in terms of their rehabilitation, future employment etc.

The issue of the treatment prisoners and of their early release is difficult for many of those who have suffered in the Troubles. For the wider society, a moral issue is posed, in that the substantial public resources devoted to the maintenance, re-training and rehabilitation of prisoners has not been matched by the resources devoted to the welfare of those bereaved and injured. This must be a cause for concern. Therefore the report’s recommendation that at least equity of resource allocation be established is welcome, and, if implemented, would have the effect of acting positively on the problem of the shortage of  resources in the field.

 Early release of prisoners
The first releases were not properly handled with regard to the issue of the families of their victims, and information about the manner in which families who wish to be informed of the early release of particular prisoners is not widely available. This is an issue that requires immediate and urgent attention. One suggestion is that explanatory leaflets, with relevant telephone numbers and addresses should be sent to every home in Northern Ireland.

7. In the interests of giving victims an effective “champion”, existing organisations meeting their needs require more and more secure funding, and there is a strong case for a powerful ‘umbrella’ organisation to give them a stronger voice in bidding for resources and urging changes in policy or practice

More and more secure funding for existing organisations
Currently many organisations operating in this area spend anywhere from 20-60 per cent of their resources and time fundraising. This means that the capacity of these organisations to meet the need of those they were established to serve, and their ability to plan for the medium and long term is severely restricted.

Formation of an umbrella organisation:
The formation of an umbrella organisation representing all victims would certainly ease the process of consulting with victims’ interests, and might well serve the purpose of lobbying for increased provision for victims. However, the idea gives rise to a number of concerns. First, the ability of any organisation to represent the interests of all victims, given that only a very small minority of victims are in touch with (or indeed may wish to be in touch with) existing organisations is highly questionable. There are thousands of individuals who will be represented by such a body, but yet cannot be consulted by them. If such an organisation were to be formed, a solution to this problem would have to be found, otherwise the organisation would have no right to speak on behalf of victims in general. The idea that the diversity of groups in existence could be successfully incorporated into an umbrella organisation remains to be proven. The experience of those who have attempted to contain such diversity within one organisation is instructive. There are fundamental divisions between groups, and it is often too difficult for people to work together as a result. In addition, currently there is unfortunately also competition between groups for resources. Therefore if an umbrella organisation is to be established, it would be crucially important that:

(a) it is organised co-ordinated and serviced by a neutral and disinterested secretariat, with no interest in competing for resources;
(b) that ALL groups who claim to represent the interest of victims are allocated a seat on such a body as of right;
(c) that meetings are open to all those bereaved and/or injured in the Troubles to attend;
(d) that meetings rotate around Northern Ireland;
(e) that regular public meetings take place in regions around Northern Ireland, in order to canvas views of individuals, and in order to disseminate information;
(f) that information is disseminated to ALL groups and individuals. Press releases are not an adequate means of doing this. Regular telephoning of committee members who do not or cannot attend meetings keeping them informed of developments and consulting them on decisions will be required;
(g) that non-attendance at meetings does not disqualify people or organisations from participating in the umbrella organisation, nor does it remove people from serving in the organisation’s committees or panels. Non-attendance must be understood and managed, since it can be due to conflicts with other members, disability or geography.
(h) That the umbrella group should make decisions on the basis of consensus. Where consensus cannot be achieved, a decision cannot be made by the umbrella organisation. Majority rule should not used as a way of marginalising minority views in such an organisation.
(i) Ways must be found to regularly canvas the views of the substantial numbers of people in Northern Ireland and beyond who have been affected by the Troubles, but who are not in touch with any organisation working with victims. Care must be taken to ensure that such an umbrella organisation does not make unwarranted assumptions about the views or interests of such people without  consulting them, or being able to do so.

8.  In the longer term, the interests of victims should be made the concern of a Standing Commission or a Protector or Ombudsman for Victims

The establishment of the Victims Liaison Unit is a welcome development in this area. In the long term, the formation of a Standing Commission, with Commissioners nominated to serve on a permanent public body with a statutory remit would ensure that substantial and enduring attention is paid to the issues of concern to those affected by the Troubles. Such a Commission would require powers to require public bodies to consult with them on new policy and legislation, and the role of the Commission would be to protect the rights and interests of those affected by the Troubles.

9. A much higher priority should be given to treatment of and local research into chronic physical pain; the question of a Trauma Centre and the availability of residential psychiatric care for young people should also be addressed.

 Treatment of and research into chronic physical pain.

This remains an issue requiring urgent attention. Research is required, and new treatments and methods of pain control and management, including alternative and complementary approaches must be made available to those in need as a matter of urgency. Consideration of additional financial provision for those in chronic pain, should be given. Some form of financial benefit, such as a chronic pain allowance which would allow the sufferer access to choose from a range of private treatment  treatments is one option.

 Trauma Centre: Residential psychiatric care for young people

This is one of the recommendations that has been at least partly implemented by the establishment of the Trauma Centre within South and East Belfast Trust. However, the size and the location of this provision in relation to the level and distribution of need requires review. The needs of young people outside the Belfast area require particular attention. Furthermore, arrangements for the long term funding of the newly established Trauma Centre require to be put in place. Currently, funding has been provided for the first year only.

10. The possibility of benefiting from some form of Truth and Reconciliation Commission at some stage should not be overlooked.

This recommendation is worded in such a way as to suggest that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should not be regarded as an immediate prospect, but rather one for the future. Should the conditions arise where such a body might serve a useful purpose and be able to ensure maximum participation in its proceedings, then the unanswered questions, particularly those of people who have suffered, deserve such attention. However, the current climate in Northern Ireland is such that it is difficult to imagine such a Commission being able to function. A major question is the incentive that could be provided to so-called perpetrators to testify to such a body. In South Africa, amnesty was the incentive. In Northern Ireland, substantial number of people have already served prison sentences for their part in the conflict, so it is difficult to see what incentive could be offered to them. Furthermore, unlike South Africa, there has been no change in the dispensation in Northern Ireland. The British government remains the sovereign power, and therefore those who would sit on such a Commission would be faced with the prospect, when examining the role of the security forces, of dealing with the existing status quo. It is unlikely that developments such as those in the former German Democratic Republic, where the secret police files on citizens were made publicly accessible, will take place in Northern Ireland.  Yet the need for truth, and more information about certain events exists. The new inquiry into Bloody Sunday is indicative of government recognition of the desire on the part of some people to revisit parts of the past and learn more about events, and perhaps set the record straight. We recommend that consideration be given to the formation of a working party including the Committee on the Administration of Justice, the Mediation Network for Northern Ireland, and involving those with knowledge of the operation of truth commissions elsewhere. This working party should report to government on:

(a) the extent of the desire for truth and disclosure on events in the Troubles
(b) ways in which such desires might be satisfied within the current climate of Northern Ireland
(c) any legal or technical difficulties or issues which may arise in relation to the conduct of such a process.

11. Every effort should be made to persuade and enable those with information about the ‘disappeared’ to disclose it.

 That the bodies of loved ones have not been given proper burial rites further complicates an already complicated grief for their families. Years of lobbying and making inquiries into the whereabouts of their relatives’ bodies place the families of the disappeared in a tragic and potentially endless limbo of uncertainty. We note that, since the publication of the Bloomfield report, some small amount of progress seems to have occurred on this issue. It is important that the political pressure is maintained on those who hold this information to disclose it, and as soon as possible.

12. Consideration should be given to the creation of a fund to assist particular children and young people affected by the death or injury of a parent

 This is another of the recommendations that has already been acted upon, with the establishment of an educational bursary fund. Whilst this is welcome, the needs of children and young people affected by the Troubles are not limited to education. A wider remit for such bursaries would be welcome, such as the availability of bursaries to pay for psychological help, or special aids and medical treatment for children and young people who require it, and cannot have their needs met by the existing services. Particular attention should also be given to building the capacity of schools, particularly those in areas worst affected by the Troubles, to recognise and address the effects of the Troubles and the educational implications of those effects on children in their school.

13. At the appropriate time, consideration should be given to a Northern Ireland Memorial in the form of a beautiful and useful building within a peaceful and harmonious garden

Whilst it is important to remember those who have lost so much, there are many dangers in establishing a memorial to the Troubles. Some are unhappy about commemorating the Troubles since 1969, and wish to include those killed in earlier periods. Some wish to exclude others from such memorials, arguing that they are the enemy. Some argue that we may not have achieved the end of the Troubles yet, and such initiatives are premature. There are a number of places that already hold archives of information about the Troubles, such as the Linenhall Library, yet there is a need for a physical place  where people can reflect and learn from what has happened. We support the proposal of the Belfast and District Trades Council for a “Museum of Tolerance” – an educational and training facility, with perhaps conference and training resources, which could encourage the process of learning from the tragedy and losses of the past. It is important that such a place should reflect he diversity of views and experiences within Northern Ireland and that it is managed by a consortium, rather than one body or set of interests.

14. Targeting of help: direct help to individuals and families:

Finally, concern was expressed to us about the way public expenditure in this field would be directed. Some people are concerned that the individuals and families who had suffered should receive financial help directly. Their concern is that expenditure aimed at supporting voluntary groups and statutory services to victims, whilst valuable, cannot take precedence over direct help to families and individuals themselves.

Marie Smyth
Project Director
The Cost of theTroubles Study

29 September 1998

Last Modified 22 January 1999
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