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Residual matters relating to victims
of the Troubles in the light of the Agreement document, by Marie Smyth
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(To be read in the light of the earlier
I have made the following notes based on my understanding of the Agreement
document, and the concerns it raises in relation to victims. It has been
read avidly by those we work with, and generally the response has been
favourable. Therefore I think it is important, given that the Victims commission
is mentioned in the Agreement, that any undertakings in the Agreement are
seen to be delivered on.
The second stimulus to the following remarks is a consciousness that
we as an organisation have been performing some of the functions outlined
below, particularly those in relation to providing information and non-financial
resources to local groups, and those of providing information on international
approaches. We, however, will go out of business at the end of thjs year,
when the funding for this project finishes. In my view, this work is valuable,
particularly in supporting and bringing together those working in this
field, and in encouraging local communities to begin to audit the effect
of the Troubles on them, as a precursor to developing local initiatives.
It is important that this work should be continued by someone.
I hope these remarks are helpful.
Crucial role of Victims Commission: Whilst
the inclusion of victims in the agreement document of 17 April, 1998 is
welcome, it refers and relies on the work of the Victims Commission to
provide the substance of the response to the situation of victims. This
means that any findings or measures recommended by the Victims Commission
will be linked to the agreement, and the ethos of the agreement.
International expertise: The agreement
makes particular mention of areas worst affected by the troubles, and the
need to support community based initiatives in such areas, which should
not only be financially supported, but should also be resourced with expertise
based on "international best practice" established in other societies coming
out of violence. This will involve locating such international expertise,
and making it accessible to local communities, in accordance with community
Deconstructing silence and denial:
Many of the established voluntary and statutory organisations operating
in this field have not addressed the issue of victims of the Troubles,
and may have some difficulty in doing so, due to the long-standing culture
of silence and denial that has surrounded these issues. Such organisations
should be supported, through training, organisational development and other
initiatives, to begin to formulate organisational policies and goals around
meeting the needs of those who have suffered in the Troubles.
Allocation of resources: The agreement
also makes mention of "services that are supportive and sensitive to the
needs of victims... channelled through both statutory and community based
voluntary organisations facilitating locally based self-help and support
networks. This will require the allocation of sufficient resources, including
statutory funding as necessary, to meet the needs of victims and to provide
for community based support programmes." It will be important that those
responsible for resource allocation have a sound understanding of the field
and are able to evaluate proposals from a broad perspective. It is to be
recommended that those with personal experience of bereavement or injury
are involved in these processes. It is also crucial that some objective
method of evaluating need is adopted, so that resources can be directed
at the communities and groups that have suffered most, not merely at those
who are good at obtaining resources. Support should also be provided to
communities in order to assist them to access resources where the level
of need is high, but where the community infrastructure does not exist
to obtain resources.
The need for a dedicated Trauma Centre:
As we mentioned in our earlier meeting, the needs of victims are diverse,
with a small number requiring skilled psychotherapeutic treatment of conditions
such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the aftermath of torture. We
have found that even though the numbers requiring scale of this need are
limited, the situation of people is often totally disabling, and the need
is not likely to disappear for at least a generation. Visitors to Northern
Ireland are shocked that there is not a professional Trauma Centre already
established, and in our experience, there is a skills deficit in the professions
in recognising and treating such Troubles related conditions. Furthermore,
some professionals appear to think that no special skills or knowledge
is required for treating, for example, victims of torture. Local practice
has been to rely heavily on medication, which is not in accordance with
the state of knowledge in the field. Given that there are, in our estimation,
several hundred people at least who suffer severe symptoms as a result
of failed assassination attempts, witnessing brutality and so on, we would
argue in favour of establishing a specialist service. This should be located
outside of the normal mental health services perhaps housed within an independent
body, in order to avoid stigmatisation and local professional politics.
In such an initiative, local professional people coming fresh to the problem
can be trained according to international best practice, and sent if necessary
to Helsinki or Cape Town to gain the requisite skills and expertise. In
my view, such an initiative should glean what it can from international
experience in the field, and the appointment of advisors from international
sites of excellence, who can act as sources of advice and support would
be an invaluable resource.
Services for young people: Furthermore,
there is a shortage of NHS facilities in mental health in general, with
a doubling since 1992 of children and young people held in adult psychiatric
in Northern Ireland. There are a total of 6 residential psychiatric beds
for young people in Northern Ireland.
Children and Adolescents in Adult In-Patient
Psychiatric Facilities in Northern Ireland
|% increase over
Source of baseline data for each year: Mental Health Inpatient System:
Department of Health: increases calculated by author.
Young people, particularly young males as a
priority: Given that the agreement document specifically prioritises
young people, and given that our research shows that young people, particularly
young (Catholic) males are at the highest risk from death in the Troubles,
it is important that the support services and provision to young people
are urgently reviewed. The major children's charities should be galvanised
in this work, to lend it credibility and independence in the communities
worst affected. In such communities, both Catholic and Protestant there
is widespread disaffection from government agencies, and I fear for the
effectiveness of any new initiative from that source. Services to children
and young people are currently woefully inadequate, and require urgent
Family support and therapy: Specialist
family therapy services will also be important in providing support for
families who have not been able to cope with, for example, the impact of
bereavement. We have evidence of parents being unable to fulfil their parental
responsibilities because of the impact of a death or trauma on them.
Rebuilding the social fabric of communities:
of the thinking about victims of the Troubles has focussed on individuals
and families. However, whole communities and communities of interest have
been damaged, the culture of violence has been established in such communities
and the social fabric seriously damaged. If there is to be a lasting peace,
the work of rebuilding that social fabric in such communities is of crucial
importance. This has been a challenge faced by many societies coming out
of violence, and again, we should learn from the experience elsewhere.
Training for mental health and general practitioners:
Some of the resources allocated should, in my view, be used to provide better and further
training for mental health and general practitioners in recognising, referring on and
treating the mental health sequelae to the Troubles. What is urgently required is a
competent service to which they can refer on, and this point was dealt with above in
relation to the establishment of a Trauma centre.
Training for new and existing professionals:
other professions, such as social work, teaching and nursing, professional
bodies should be provided with effective incentives to initiate the inclusion
of new training at basic, post-qualifying and in-service levels. This new
training would ensure that people practising in these professionals are
equipped to recognise and deal appropriately with the effect of the Troubles
on people they come into contact with.
Resources to support self-help and social support
initiatives: Many of those who have suffered require social
support and self-help opportunities. Contrary to what might be supposed,
the establishment of social support networks and facilitation of self-help
initiatives is skilful and work, which requires a sound knowledge base
in human services. Specifically, workers in this field must be able to
build the capacity in local communities and support local initiatives with
expertise, information and access to a wider network. People who have been
victims of the Troubles, in our experience, often do not have the personal
resources to manage and operate organisations without the support of paid
workers who can carry the day to day responsibilities on their behalf.
Democratising services & accountability:
It is crucial that such initiatives remain genuinely in the control of
users, since the "professionalising" of services may well provide cuedos
for professionals, but it further stigmatises and disempowers people. What
is called for is a new professionalism that makes itself genuinely accountable
to its patients and clients in a way many of the professional services
in Northern Ireland have not done until now.
Employment of former victims: Where
possible local people and those who have personal experience of surviving
loss in the Troubles are employed in such schemes, and in any new initiatives
for those affected by the Troubles.
Establishment of an independent body of "experts"
with personal experience of loss/injury: Consideration should
be given to a permanent independent body or commission that would advise,
support and promote work with victims of the Troubles. Such a body should
be multi-disciplinary and accountable to (or composed of) a Board of people
who have personal experience of loss and injury in the Troubles. Its remit
could be to influence existing services to gear themselves towards Troubles-related
needs, and to advise and provide resources for local communities who wish
to establish local self-help and other services.
Trust and acceptablity of new services: In
the light of recent developments and the response to the Victims Commission,
thought must be given to the participation and accessibility of any new
arrangements to both of the main traditions in Northern Ireland. It should
be remembered that those bereaved and injured by security forces are often
understandably mistrustful of state provision, and often reluctant to participate
in, for example the consultative exercise on the Victims Commission, or
to use state services. It is part of the healing process that provision
should take these fears into account and provide services that are acceptable
to the people who need them.
Public awareness: In the course of
our research, we have concluded that there are two worlds in Northern Ireland.
The first world is the mainstream one, where the impact of the Troubles
is limited to news broadcasts and occasional fear, inconvenience or upset.
The other world is that inhabited by those who have been severely affected
by the Troubles, where everything is significant in relation to the Troubles,
every street has memories or dangers, anniversaries bring it all back.
Most people do not know about this second world. Yet an appreciation of
how much people have suffered is an important motivator for people in the
task of building a peaceful society. Educational programmes, that are not
sensationalist, or focussed on one incident or group of people should be
established so that public understanding of victims' medium and long term
experience is increased.
Truth and justice: For some people
who have lost family members, there are strong feelings of injustice in
cases where there are unresolved justice issues, missing bodies, unanswered
questions. For these people, resolution or healing is often impossible
in the absence of knowing more about the circumstances of what happened
to their loved ones. The Victims Commission must address the situation
of these people, by some formal public means, so that their quest for more
information and public acknowledgement of what happened is satisfied as
best it can be. We recognise that this is a difficult area in the context
of a wider agreement involving prisoners and parties with links to paramilitaries.
However, the situation of these people could be put to those parties, with
a view to coming up with an agreed mechanism by which the situation of
victims' families could be realistically addressed.
The Cost of The Troubles Study
The United Nations University /University of Ulster
22 April, 1998
Marie Smyth © INCORE 1998
Last Modified 22 January 1999
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