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Violence - Differing Approaches to Statistics on Deaths

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Differing Approaches to Statistics on Deaths

The Northern Ireland conflict has been one of the most researched and widely reported conflicts in the world. In such circumstances one would initially assume that there would be no disagreement about one of the basic statistics of that conflict, that is, the number of people who were killed. However, even in Northern Ireland there are differing estimates of the number of people who have died as a result of 'the Troubles'.

There are several lists of those who have died. These lists have been compiled by a number of organisations, groups of people, and individuals, over the period of 'the Troubles'. Most of the lists coincide on the majority of deaths where, for example, someone has been killed in a shooting or bombing incident and one of the paramilitary groups claims responsibility for the death. However, there are a significant minority of cases where a death is included in one list but not in another. It is easy to think of examples of such circumstances. What does one do about an accidental shooting where there was no intention to harm, or where a person dies a sudden death due to a heart problem after witnessing a violent incident, or someone who is killed when struck by a military vehicle, or someone who commits suicide in direct response to the loss of a loved-one in a conflict-related incident? The remainder of this page provides some brief details about the way in which the most frequently used lists of deaths are compiled.


The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Statistics

Royal Ulster Constabulary (annual from 1970) Chief Constable's Annual Report. Belfast: RUC.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) compilee and published information on a number of aspects of the Northern Ireland conflict. In addition to information on matters such as the number of explosions, arms finds, convictions, etc., figures were also published on the number of deaths. This information was treated as the 'official' count of the number of people who were killed and the figures were often quoted in news reports about Northern Ireland. However, the RUC figures do not include deaths that occur:

  • outside Northern Ireland,
  • as a result of trauma brought on by a 'Troubles' related incident, for example, sudden death due to a heart problem,
  • as a result of traffic accidents involving military vehicles.

The figures therefore are an underestimate of the true level of deaths. See:


Irish Information Partnership (IIP) Database

The Irish Information Partnership (IIP) was an information service which operated during the 1980s. The IIP compiled both quantitative and qualitative information on those who had died during the conflict. The IIP published a number of reports on the conflict and the summary tables were reproduced by a number of authors. When the IIP came to an end the material that had been collected was eventually acquired by David McKittrick a journalist living and working in Northern Ireland (see below).


The Deramore Group - Lost Lives

The most comprehensive descriptive account of deaths from the conflict.

image of book cover McKittrick, David. Kelters, Seamus. Feeney, Brian. Thornton, Chris. (1999). Lost Lives: The Stories of Men, Women and Children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing.

Currently the information contained in the book is not available on-line. The listing of deaths is more inclusive than some other lists in that it includes accidental shootings and sudden deaths due to heart problems.


The Cost of the Troubles Project Ltd.

Fay, M.T., Morrissey, M. and Smyth, M. (1997) Mapping Troubles-Related Deaths in Northern Ireland 1969-1994. Derry Londonderry: INCORE.

A key element of this Project was the attempt to produce a comprehensive listing of those who have died as a result of the conflict. Those involved in compiling the list began by trying to reconcile a number of published and unpublished lists and then including deaths from a number of normally excluded categories. This process involved a lot of work cross-checking numerous sources of information. The database includes all those deaths which could be proved to be 'Troubles' related. It therefore includes: deaths outside Northern Ireland, deaths as a result of traumas, and deaths caused indirectly by the conflict for example accidents. In terms of the number of people included in the list it is probably the most comprehensive. The list or database is not publicly available.

A more detailed account of the way in which this database was established is given by Marie Therese Fay.


Individual Databases of the Number of Deaths

In addition to the main sources mentioned above there have been a number of databases which have been compiled by individuals. Some of these people were, as in the case of David McKittrick, journalists who held extensive records related to 'the Troubles'. Others were 'ordinary' members of the public who compiled their own lists.


The Sutton Index of Deaths

Sutton, M. (1994) An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Ireland 1969-1993. Belfast: Beyond the Pale Publications.

Malcolms Sutton's list of deaths was compiled from publicly available data. This list was published in book form and has been widely used as a reference for compiling summary statistics on the status of those killed and the agency responsible for the deaths. Sutton's list included those deaths that occurred outside of Northern Ireland and therefore the total figure is higher that the figure provided by the RUC. Certain categories of deaths are excluded from Sutton's list including:

  • those deaths which occurred as a result of accidental shootings,
  • sudden deaths due to, for example, a heart problem brought on by witnessing violent incidents,
  • deaths resulting from accidents involving military vehicles.

A revised and updated version of Sutton's data (1969-2001) is available at the CAIN site. All of the data is available on-line but the underlying database is not publicly available.


The McKeown Database of Deaths

In 2009 Michael McKeown agreed to make his database of deaths available on-line on the CAIN Web site. This is the only full database that is freely available for people to download. Copies of McKeown's publications are also available via the above link. McKeown's criteria for including deaths is more comprehensive that Sutton's hence the total number of deaths is slightly higher.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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