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'Victims, We Will Remember Them', SDLP (1999)

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Text: SDLP ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn


Victims, We Will Remember Them, (Motion No 59 refers).
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). (1999)

1 Introduction

1.1 In creating the lasting settlement and creating the new dawn in politics on this island of which John Hume spoke in April 1998, we must ensure that the new society has the confidence of all sections of that society. The Good Friday Agreement contained three strands dedicated to the potential new relationships between:

Nationalists and Unionists
North and South
Ireland and Britain

1.2 We must also consider a fourth strand - Victims and Society - and the role to be played by those who have suffered in our times of trouble. Victims were mentioned only fleetingly in the Good Friday Agreement. It is only with their forgiveness or, at the very least, their acceptance and their involvement in society, that we are able to look to a future that is brighter than our past. We must remember them and, in the words of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, the Victims Commissioner, we will remember them.

2 Definition

2.1 Before considering measures to address victims’ issues, we need to be clear of our overall aims and, indeed, what we mean by "Victim". The Bloomfield Report takes victims to be the surviving injured and those who care for them, together with close relatives who mourn their dead. The Social Services Inspectorate Report: "Living with the Trauma of the Troubles" shies away from the term "victim" altogether, believing people are often more willing to accept the term "individual affected by the civil unrest". The latter report also adopts the principle of allowing this group to be self-defining.

2.2 In a true spirit of reconciliation and healing, the SDLP sees a victim as being any individual:

whose life has altered its course as a result of the bitterness and division in our society and
who believes that the alteration was negative.

2.3 This definition encompasses most people who have spent a significant length of time in the North, and includes some who have never even visited our shores. It even includes individuals who might be perceived by some to have brought suffering upon themselves. It is, though, a self-defining group, which is important. As the SSI Report states and as Bloomfield acknowledges in part, some individuals would be distressed to be classed as victims, even though wider society might perceive them to be such. Some victims have suffered more than others, but because suffering is such an intensely personal feeling, the level of suffering cannot be predicted by the type of experience. Support should be available to all traumatized individuals, according to their need, regardless of the scale of the incident in which they were involved.

2.4 This is a key point; all groups of victims should recognize that there is no monopoly on pain. Some victims have suffered bereavement or separation, some have suffered physical or psychological injury, some have been forced out of their homes and others have suffered material loss. Whatever the individual circumstances, victims probably stand to gain more by recognizing their common suffering than focusing on their individual differences.

2.5 The overarching goals of the policies contained in this paper are:

  • For victims as a group to have their collective pain recognized by Society
  • For individual victims to have their individual pain recognized by Society
  • To provide a mechanism for offering physical and practical support to victims to enable them to adjust and reintegrate with Society as fully as possible
  • For victims to feel that their suffering, although tragic and unacceptable, was not in vain
  • For Society to affirm that it will not tolerate the same kind of suffering and pain, ever again

Every step has been taken to avoid:

  • extending, rather than reducing, the pain and suffering of victims
  • enshrining a mechanism to turn pain and suffering into bitterness, resentment and blaming
  • encouraging arguments about the right to qualify for victim status
  • diminishing the right of victims to express themselves as they would wish on an individual basis
  • allowing victims of non-sectarian crime to feel forgotten

3 Social and Psychological Needs of Victims

3.1 The Social Services Inspectorate, within the DHSS, prepared a report entitled "Living with the Trauma of the Troubles" in March 1998. The report focuses on examining and promoting the further development of services to meet the social and psychological needs of victims. It does not address the financial and political aspects of the Victims Issue, but does provide recommendations that make up a comprehensive package of social support. Although some of the recommendations are necessarily based upon the existing administrative arrangements which the SDLP does not support (i.e. Health and Social Services Trusts and Boards), they would translate well into any new structures that may emerge.

3.2 The recommendations in the Report are sensible and are attached at Appendix 1. They were developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts, victims’ representatives and academics; the team was cross-community. The SDLP endorses these recommendations, and will work in the Executive, Assembly and any other possible forum to promote their implementation.

4 The Bloomfield Report

4.1 "We will remember them" (the Bloomfield Report) does not particularly address the social needs of victims; its main focus is on financial and political needs. The recommendations seem broadly sensible, in as far as they go. They appear, however, to apply to only a proportion of victims. Moreover, they do not appear to consider public recognition of the individuals and their own personal tragedies. Nor, to any great extent, is there any attempt to place the victims plight in the context of healing Society’s wounds.

4.2 One additional proposal that might go some way to addressing the issues missed by Bloomfield could be the compilation of a register of victims. Any individual who saw fit would be able to submit their name for inclusion on a register to be housed in the Assembly Speaker’s Office. On taking office, any future First and Deputy First Minister would be invited to endorse the register - effectively, therefore, recognizing all individual victims and remembering why they will preside over a Government of shared power.

4.3 Bloomfield rejected the proposal for a public memorial listing victims in case it provoked resentment with some victims not wishing to be listed alongside other victims. He also had concerns that it might become a target for vandalism. Because a victims’ register would not be accessible to the public, nobody entering their name to it would have sight of other names on it. Moreover, because the register would not be on public display, it could not be the target of vandalism.

4.4 To balance the Victims register, a Register of Reconciliation could also be established. This type of Register already operates in South Africa, and provides a mechanism for those who have done (non-criminal) wrong and those who have turned a blind eye to wrong to clear the air and seek reconciliation. The South African register is on public access and sample entries are reproduced at Appendix 2.

4.5 The SDLP will press for these two registers to be established.

5 Victims’ Advocate

5.1 Bloomfield’s recommendations include the need for talk in terms of a victims’ champion or Ombudsman for Victims. The SDLP will press for the appointment of a junior minister within the First and Deputy First Ministers’ Office with responsibility, inter alia, for victims. This will demonstrate the commitment at the heart of the inclusive Executive to obtain a fair deal for victims and to recognize their pain.

5.2 In South Africa, the approximate equivalent to the Victims Commission is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is easy to overplay the parallels between South Africa and Northern Ireland and between the two commissions, but it is interesting to note that in South Africa, the "Victims’ Champion" is a high profile, but politically neutral figure. The SDLP will press for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to appoint a similar Victims Advocate. This would ensure that the Victims’ Advocate had at least some element of cross-community support.

5.3 In addition to a Minister for Victims and a Victims Advocate, there should be a Commission consisting of independent community workers under the Chairmanship of the Victims Advocate. The Commission and the Victims’ Advocate would be accessible to Victims and have a position of standing to raise victims’ issues and concerns with the Government.

6 Platform for Victims of the Troubles - a Video Archive

6.1 It is important that victims be given a public platform to allow them to articulate their feelings and viewpoints, both in a collective sense and on an individual basis. The provision of such a forum would indicate that the "state" had recognized both the contribution made already by victims to the arrival of an agreement and also the vital role that they will have to play in turning that agreement into a lasting peace.

6.2 The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC contains an Oral History Archive. This houses more than 2,900 interviews with survivors, giving their own, personal testimonies. Some of the interviews are video based and some are audio only, and in some cases, form the basis of exhibits in the museum. The majority of the tapes were compiled by Holocaust Centres around the world and were donated to the museum.

6.3 The SDLP believes that the "beautiful building" proposed in the Bloomfield Report should house a similar library of video or audio testimonies. Victims’ Groups could be involved in the compilation of the tapes, whilst a mechanism should exist within the building for victims who prefer to record their testimonies independently. The Victims’ Advocate (see paragraph 5.3) would have to give careful consideration to the level of public access to be given to the testimonies; it may be that some victims would not wish their testimonies to be publicly available during their lifetime. The SDLP will work within the Assembly to make the Video Archive a central feature of the support measures for Victims.

7 Core funding of victims’ organizations

7.1 An annual fund as described under the "Reconciliation and Victims of Violence" section of the Good Friday Agreement should be set aside by the Government to allow Victims’ Organizations to apply for core funding or funding for specific projects. The fund should run initially for 5 years, with an evaluation carried out after 3 years. This would enable the organizations to devote their time to working on healing division and hurt, rather than spending their time seeking funds.

7.2 The fund should be administered by the Victims Commission and must have clearly transparent criteria for appropriate and inappropriate use of funds. Clearly, the use of funding for party political purposes or for overtly sectarian purposes would be unacceptable. Such criteria would enable the wider public to have the confidence that the funds were being used for laudable purposes, and would enable organizations to be able to gauge their likelihood of success in obtaining funds prior to their application.

8 Monetary compensation for victims

8.1 Suggestions have been made that special compensation arrangements be made for victims of the troubles. Interestingly, in South Africa, they refer to "reconciliation payments", rather than "compensation payments" in an acknowledgment that you cannot compensate someone, either in full or in part, for the loss of a relative or for physical or mental injury.

8.2 The present Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme compares favourably with schemes in operation elsewhere. Nevertheless, there is still scope for its improvement. To this end, the SDLP notes the wide ranging review of Criminal Injuries Compensation in Northern Ireland (Report to the Secretary of State by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, June 1999) and welcomes some of its recommendations. The Party will address this report in due course in a separate paper.

9 Official Day of Reconciliation

9.1 The SDLP would like to see the establishment of a official Day of Reconciliation to act as a lasting reminder to all people of the distance that we have travelled over the last three decades and of the distance that still has to be travelled. It is too early at present to establish such a day, but the SDLP reaffirms its commitment to work for peace and reconciliation to make a Day of Reconciliation a reality.

10 Conclusion

10.1 This package of proposals is commended to Conference as a comprehensive package of action aimed at bringing victims in from the cold. As a whole, our society has done too little for victims to date. This might provide an excuse for remaining silent on the issue - but to do so would be the coward’s option. Instead, let the SDLP stand up and be counted; as a party of social democracy, we have always championed the cause of the underdog and provided a voice for everyday people. Our message to victims of all sides is simple:

We won’t let you down

11 Credits

11.1 The SDLP gratefully acknowledges that the ideas contained in this paper build upon the foundations laid by other reports and studies, including the Good Friday Agreement, the Victims Commissioner’s Report, and the Social Services Inspectorate Report. Above all, though, the ideas have evolved from original concepts put forward by Victims’ Groups in Northern Ireland and other countries affected by violence.

Appendix 1

Recommendations in the "Living with the Trauma of the Troubles" report

Recommendation numbers are from the report numbering - numbers in brackets refer to the original paragraphs in the report which led to the recommendations

4.29 The community developments which are taking place, often in the most troubled areas and often led by people who have themselves been severely traumatized, should be supported and encouraged by Boards, Trusts and other funding bodies as part of an overall co-ordinated response to the needs of affected individuals. (4.4)

4.30 The development of crisis support teams should be widened to ensure that this provision is available when needed throughout Northern Ireland. Support should be available to all traumatised individuals, regardless of the scale of the incident in which they were involved. (4.5)

4.31 The location of services must be carefully considered to ensure that they are easily accessible to those who need them. (4.10)

4.32 The manpower requirements of the psychology service should be examined to see how it can become more effectively involved in treating people at the time and point of need, and in reducing time spent on waiting lists. (4.15-16)

5.42 There are widespread concerns about the counselling of persons affected by the conflict, such as training, accreditation, supervision, co-ordination, quality and effectiveness. The Department of Health and Social Services should convene a Northern Ireland working group to address these concerns. This group should include those representing established and recognised counselling organizations such as Cruse Bereavement Care, and other interested bodies such as the British Association of Counselling, the Irish Association for Counselling and Therapy, the British Association of Psychology, the British Association of Social Workers, the relevant occupational standards bodies and local academic institutions. The group should consider:

  • the need for counselling of persons affected by the conflict;
  • minimum standards acceptable for counselling of such persons;
  • a review of training and supervision arrangements;
  • future accreditation of counsellors and organizations offering a counselling service;
  • the application of national standards for qualifications (e.g. National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs);
  • establishment of a Northern Ireland accreditation panel in the absence of another suitable body;
  • provision of a report with recommendations on the way ahead. (5.15-24)

5.43 Each community Trust should compile and maintain a register/directory of services recording all voluntary and community organizations and professional agencies which offer help, in its various forms, to individuals affected by civil unrest. This register/directory of services should be held by all voluntary organizations and professionals as a means of contributing to more effective co-ordination of the services available, improved liaison, referral of clients and communication of essential information. Compilation of a register/directory will require evaluation of the services provided by each organization and services will need to be monitored to allow the register to be updated. This task would complement Trusts’ responsibilities in connection with emergency community care planning, as outlined in the Departmental circular and planning manual. (5.1-5)

5.44 Services offered by each organization should be recorded in the register/directory. Services may range from simple sympathetic listening, befriending, practical help, mutual support and advice through to counselling. Organisations which offer, or aspire to offer, a counselling service in addition to other services, should be accredited. An organization’s accreditation status should be shown in any future register/directory, as well as the range of other services they offer. It is important that all agencies are in receipt of this source of information to assist their own decisions in relation to referral of persons for further help and assistance. (5.6)

5.45 In the longer term it is recommended that no organization should practice counselling unless they have received accreditation by the Northern Ireland panel or other body designated for this purpose. (5.15-24)

5.46 Each Trust should prepare suitable explanatory pamphlets on what services are available in its area with points of reference where help can be accessed. These should be made available to A and E departments, GP surgeries, health and social services premises, and other suitable outlets such as funeral directors, police stations, Northern Ireland Housing Executive offices, Social Security offices, Post Offices, public libraries, Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, courts and solicitors’ offices. Copies should also be available to all organizations offering help, to raise awareness of the full range of available assistance. (5.1-6)

5.47 Further funding for crisis support teams should be considered to allow them to offer follow-up support to individuals for up to 2 years. (5.8; 5.26)

6.28 To improve co-ordination and liaison of services a small advisory panel should be established in each Health and Social Services Board’s area, representative of the range of professionals and voluntary organizations working with those who have been affected by the conflict. The panel should include individuals who have encountered trauma and would be willing to advise the panel in the light of their own personal experience. The panel’s tasks should include:

  • assisting the co-ordination of services in the Board’s area;
  • enabling greater coherence and cohesion of the network which exists in the area;
  • improvement in the understanding of emerging needs and the shared development of methods for tackling them;
  • clarifying and promoting a better understanding of roles and role relationships on the continuum of provision. (6.1 & 6.3)

6.29 Boards should examine the adequacy of the current provision of child and adolescent psychiatry and their ability to offer a timely response to affected individuals. (6.4-5)

6.30 The DHSS should conduct a review of clinical psychology services, taking account of current demand and outstanding waiting lists. A priority should be to reduce the current backlog and shorten waiting lists. To improve understanding of the therapeutic options offered by psychology services, explanatory information should be prepared and included in local registers/directories of services. (6.6-9)

6.31 Education and Library Boards should examine the adequacy of educational psychology services for pupils affected by the civil unrest. (6.9)

6.32 Legal representatives should have access to information on services and should ensure that clients seeking compensation are informed of all support and treatment possibilities. (6.10)

6.33 Services for security personnel should examine the needs of their ex-personnel and their families to ensure that appropriate services are readily available to these groups. (6.11-13)

6.34 Social services need to address their perceived negative image and the lack of trust in them which exists in some communities. They need to explain their role and re-establish relationships with their local communities. (6.14-15)

6.35 Staff working in the statutory sector need awareness training to help them recognise that the problems of some of the individuals that they are trying to help may be rooted in undisclosed ‘Troubles’-related trauma. (6.16)

6.36 Those currently engaged in providing services should explore the value of establishing a 24 hour confidential helpline. Discussion with Samaritans revealed that a striking proportion of their calls are from individuals who have been affected by the conflict. Samaritans suggested that their contribution in this area could be enhanced if their service was listed as one of the available sources of help in any publicity material targeted at affected individuals. They could provide a better information service and refer callers to appropriate helping agencies if they were in possession of any new registers/directories of service providers and other publicity material recommended in this project report. Given their current service, it would be appropriate to involve them in discussing this proposal. (6.17)

7.21 The literature identifies a number of core features of good practice for working with persons affected by the conflict. These features, and the examples of good practice identified by the project, suggest a basic set of standards for work in this area and these are set out in Chapter 8. These, and the highlighted examples, should be widely disseminated to encourage other organizations to adopt similar standards and initiatives. (7.1; 7.4; 7.6-9 & 7.14-18)

7.22 The pioneering training courses which have been positively evaluated should be expanded to raise awareness of the needs of traumatised individuals, to enhance the listening skills of individuals in the community and to provide training opportunities for organizations whose members are working with traumatised persons. (7.11)

7.23 An encouraging range of diverse services is developing in many areas. They offer a unique opportunity to evaluate each service, to discover if the service is achieving what it set out to do and to discover what works best. If these evaluations are collated, compared and disseminated, a valuable compendium of evidence-based practice can be built up, allowing future new developments to learn from the best practice of others. Lessons learnt in Northern Ireland may also be applicable in other parts of the world. Evaluation should be built into every project and a database of findings should be established and made easily accessible to those with an interest in this field.

Appendix 2

Sample entries on the South African Register of Reconciliation

Number: 15

Monday, December 15, 1997 at 22:53:48


I wish to express my deepest regrets for my non-involvement.

Anne Peimer, Cape Town, SA

Number: 17

Monday, December 15, 1997 at 23:14:29


I was born in the fifties in the Eastern Cape and so grew up being a part of the system. I am deeply sorry for any pain caused by my failure to act and stand up for the people of this land who were oppressed. I beg your forgiveness.

Alexa (Fuff) Kirsten, Wellington, SA

Number: 18

Monday, December 15, 1997 at 23:35:06


I am sorry for what I did during the bush war.

I am sorry for being a racist during the apartheid years.

Deon Stols, Centurion, SA

Number: 19

Monday, December 15, 1997 at 23:54:14


One step at a time, we've been still, then crawled, walked to freedom, memories of pain, shame and heroes will run with us through life. Scars take a long time to heal, sometimes never. Let's give and take a hand for reconciliation even if it's bloodied. I salute all the fallen Heroes, and hope their stolen joy of freedom will have an extra sparkle in it for their children to enjoy. To those dishonest, unrepentant and bloodied handed people out there -- it's a shame that will be hung around the neck until you are buried in the African soil.

I ask for forgiveness for being so complacent when so many inhumane injustices were taking place before me.

(p.s -has the TRC ever investigated the circumstances surrounding Neil Aggot's death in detention)

Clive Bradford, Gardens, SA



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