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'Report on Database of Deaths' by Marie Therese Fay

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Text: Marie Therese Fay ... Page design: Martin Melaugh
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Report on Database of Deaths

by Marie Therese Fay

The Northern Ireland conflict has produced several accounts of the numbers and characteristics of those killed as a result of the troubles. All vary according to the criteria used to compile them. For example the official RUC list of deaths excludes deaths outside Northern Ireland. For this study we have attempted to compile a comprehensive and reliable database, inclusive of all troubles-related deaths both inside and outside Northern Ireland from 1969-1994. At the beginning of the project a database was purchased which we understood was reliable and extensive but unfortunately the information was incomplete, containing many inaccuracies, large gaps and discrepancies. It was decided to begin again and create a list of deaths which we were confident we could stand over. Our criteria was based on inclusiveness i.e. every death which we could prove was troubled related.

Using the original incomplete database, Official RUC Statistics and Malcolm Sutton's An Index Of Deaths From The Conflict in Ireland we began compiled a new list of deaths. To verify the accuracy of information and to fill in missing data, a number of cross checks were carried out using the following sources: Irish Information Agenda, INLA : Deadly Divisions by Jack Holland and Henry McDonald, The Red Hand by Steve Bruce, Northern Ireland: A Political Directory by Flackes and Elliott and Ballymurphy and the Irish War by Ciaran de Baroid. The database at this stage provided information on the date of the death, name of victim, age, gender, cause of death, town of incident, religious and political affiliation, occupation, organisation responsible for the death and finally where possible a full address of where the death occurred. We found gaps in our data concerning the religious affiliation of RUC members. It was agreed that as the RUC is a 92.2% Protestant force we would cite Protestant for 92.2% of the missing religious affiliation for RUC deaths. The next task was to attach a postal code to each incident address. Difficulties did arise at this stage of the work. For example if we did not have a full address of incident, but only the town of where the incident happened i.e. Lurgan or Enniskillen, it is impossible to attach an exact post code. Our solution to such problems was to take the incident address as the centre of the town, so we looked for a High St, Main St or Market St and attached a post code using this method. We followed this method consistently if we did not have a full incident address to work with. Other problems arose over addresses of places that have since been redeveloped and therefore no longer exist. To find these addresses required access to old Post Code Yearbooks for example for 1972 or 1974 and so on. Copies of these Yearbooks are kept in Central Library and Linenhall Library in Belfast. There are still some outstanding post codes which we have been unable to find. The majority of these are in rural areas throughout Northern Ireland and neither the Yearbooks nor the Postal Address Book enquiry service have been able to help us. This phase of the work proved to be time consuming.

The final phase of our this work was to find the home address of the victim killed and as with the incident address attach a post code. Neither the original database, the RUC list nor Sutton's book included the home address of any of the victims killed in the conflict. However for the purpose of our quantitative and statistical analysis it is necessary to have both the home address and incident address, allowing us to calculate a troubles related death risk using both addresses. Journalist David McKittrick who is working on a similar project provided us with around seventy per cent of the home addresses. The missing thirty per cent were found by searching through newspaper articles and reports as well as obituaries. The newspaper library in Central Library Belfast stores copies of all the main newspapers and local papers from the beginning of the troubles. Post codes were attached using the same method as before.

A final issue is the criteria for inclusiveness. Unlike Sutton and the RUC list which both exclude certain types of incidents such as army vehicle accidents, accidental shootings or deaths due to trauma, such as heart attacks or suicide, brought on by a conflict related incident, our list includes such categories. Our approach is to include trauma-related deaths. For example, if there is evidence to support that a fatal heart attack was a direct consequence of a bomb explosion/shooting or on news of hearing of the death of relative/friend/neighbour injured or killed in the conflict we have included it. Army vehicle accidents are also included on the assumption that if there was no trouble/violence on our streets, there would be no need for the numbers or intensity of army vehicles patrolling the streets. Most of these accidents have occurred in areas which have experienced the greatest concentration of violence.

Obviously problems have arose concerning inclusiveness and we had to make decisions and choices based on information and reports available on the death. One difficult decision has been to exclude the Mull of Kintyre crash in which twenty nine people were killed. All of the dead were security force personnel. Our reason for exclusion is based on the evidence that this was a helicopter crash, with no suggestion of any troubles-related involvement. The database is now as reliable and accurate as we can possibly make it but the magnitude of the task has also meant that there is no perfect database.

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

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