CAIN: Violence: Submission by Marie Smyth to the Northern Ireland Commission on Victims

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Submission by Marie Smyth to the Northern Ireland Commission on Victims

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Submission by Marie Smyth to the Northern Ireland Commission on Victims

People affected by the troubles
- what is the scale of the problem?

  1. Since 1969, 3,585 people have been killed in Northern Ireland. This means that at very least 6,800* people have the experience of one of their immediate family - parent or sibling - being killed in a troubles-related incident.

  2. According to the official figures over 40,000 people have been injured in the troubles, although this is likely to be a conservative figure. There is not readily available data on how many of this 40,000 suffer from major disability as a result of the troubles.

    If we take deaths in the troubles as an indicator (it is likely that injuries and trauma follow the same pattern as deaths) we find:

  3. 91% of those killed were male;
  4. 37% were under the age of 24, 53% were under the age of 29, and 74% were under the age of 39;
  5. Civilians - those without affiliation to the security forces or paramilitary organisations - constitute the largest group amongst those killed - 53%. Security forces from outside Northern Ireland are the next highest percentage - 14.5% followed by Northern Ireland security forces - 14.3%. Within the Northern Ireland security forces, the RUC account for almost 300 deaths, almost 50% more than RIR/UDR deaths. Republican paramilitaries account for 12.5% of those killed, and Loyalist paramilitaries for just over 3%;
  6. More Catholics than Protestants have been killed. The death rates for civilians are 3.01 per 1,000 population for Catholics and 1.26 per 1,000 for Protestants. If we include RUC deaths, the rates become 2.5 per 1,000 for Catholics and 1.9 for Protestants. If we exclude those killed by paramilitaries on their own side (Catholics killed by Republican paramilitaries and Protestants killed by Loyalist paramilitaries) then the rate becomes 2.3 for Catholics and 1.4 for Protestants;
  7. Republican paramilitaries have killed almost 59% of the total killed 704 of whom were civilians, Loyalist paramilitaries have killed almost 28% of whom 818 were civilians, and the security forces have killed just over 11%, 204 of whom were civilians, with the British army accounting for over 9% of that total;
  8. Over 41% of those killed lived in postal districts BT11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 48 and BT35. Over 48% of those killed in the troubles were killed in those same districts - North and West Belfast, Derry Londonderry City and South Armagh.
  9. There is some overlap between the "victim" and "perpetrator" categories: some victims go on to join paramilitary organisations, at least partly due to their experience of victimhood.

    If we can generalise from all this, we conclude that the troubles have been a killer of young males from North and West Belfast, Derry Londonderry or the border areas, and who are rather more likely to be Catholic. This is also the group, which is among the most likely to become perpetrators of acts of violence.


  10. All discussions about "victims" of the Troubles run the risk of becoming politicised in the following ways. Acknowledgement of the damage done to a particular grouping or community can seem to some as an admission of defeat, which will gladden their enemies, and so is to be avoided. Conversely, acknowledgement of such damage can be a way of highlighting the wickedness of those who are responsible for the attacks, and so can become a political weapon. All of this runs the risk of compounding the damage done to those who have been hurt. It is of crucial importance that all discussion about "victims" or people affected is shifted onto a humanitarian basis, based on an inclusive concern about the human needs and the resources required to meet them.

  11. The importance of timing, especially in relation to the risk of the recurrence of violence, is difficult to exaggerate. It has only become possible for some people affected by the troubles to begin to address what has happened to them when the cease-fires were announced. Maintaining a relative absence of violence is crucial to the task of addressing the situation of those affected by the troubles. Should there be a return to violence, it will not be possible to take this work forward in the same way. People who have been drastically affected by the troubles often live with high levels of fear. It is only when this fear is reduced, and when an atmosphere of increased safety is in place that it is possible to work constructively with the issues of coming out of violence. This is not to say that people do not have needs when violence is ongoing, but rather to point out that substantial progress can only be made in the absence of violence. Therefore the peace process and progress therein is at the heart of creating services and measures to address the needs of those affected by the troubles


  12. The assumption that people "get over" such things in time is not true. In the case of physical disablement, this is visibly not the case. One study we conducted showed that roughly 50% of people still had symptoms of emotional distress and things like sleep disturbance over 20 years after they had been bereaved in the troubles. This means that the scale of the problem may be very large. If we count only immediate family members, there could be over 41,400* people in the population whose immediate family death or injury in the trouble has directly affected, and who suffer distress or emotional disturbance as a result. This figure does not include all the eye-witnesses, neighbours, friends, extended family, co-workers and so on who have been affected by deaths and injuries in the troubles. Not all of this 41,400* need or require, for example, counselling. However, the public acknowledgement of their suffering, and the provision of supportive networks or services for those who need them is an important part of our recovery as a society.

  13. The converse of this is that some people who have been affected by the troubles have developed their own way of coping with their situation, and have found ways which work for them. Some of these ways involve not talking about what has happened, or distancing themselves from anything which might require them to think too deeply about what has happened, or to look at the issues from another angle. This must be recognised, and people's right not to participate must be recognised and supported.

  14. Many of those affected by the troubles complain about their lack of control over the use of television or still photography of the circumstances of their loss of injury. The reprinting or broadcasting of such material can be very distressing for families and those close to such incidents, and currently little recognition is given to the distress caused by their use without consultation with those closely involved. Many of those who have been disabled have often been made dependent on benefit, and removed from the job-market. Services for the disabled are often inadequate to their needs, and can leave them bitter about their circumstances. Poverty is also another by-product for many that have suffered in the troubles.

  15. There is a particular need for the provision of an effective pain management service to cater for those in chronic pain as a result of gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

  16. There is also a need to support carers of those with disabilities acquired as a result of the troubles. We estimate that around 100,000 people in Northern Ireland live in households where someone has been injured in a troubles-related incident. Some of these injuries were relatively minor, but some have been severely disabling.

  17. Certain groups of people have specific and different needs. For example, members of the security forces who have been injured may suffer more from isolation as a result of being unable to use civilian services, or join, for example, voluntary groups for disabled people. Families whose members have disappeared have a need for information about the bodies of their relatives. Those living in areas where levels of troubles-related violence has been high often have their lives made more difficult by repeated experiences of troubles-related violence.

  18. Many individuals and groups have a sense of injustice and grievance against the paramilitaries, the authorities, the media, politicians, or the human service organisations. The lack of acknowledgement or denial of their needs, questioning of their rights to be considered sympathetically or the lack of support for them after their bereavement, injury or loss has often exacerbated this.

  19. Often the needs and wishes of one group are directly opposite to the needs of another group. There are understandably strong feelings among those injured by a particular grouping about, for example that grouping receiving attention, services or sympathy. This means that the provision of services according to need or the creation of, for example, a monument including all names is unconscionable to some, while others consider such a step as important to their own coming to terms with what has happened to them.

  20. There has been an assumption that counselling is the appropriate and sometimes only form of services required by those affected by the troubles. This assumption is questionable. Many people are not in need of counselling, but rather of some other service. Even some of those who could benefit from counselling are reluctant to use counselling because of the stigma attached and the implication that there is "something wrong" with the person being counselled.

  21. A small number of people only will need psychiatric, psychological or counselling help. It is erroneous to assume that because so few require or want psychiatric help that the general level of needs of those affected by the troubles is low. Those who do not need or wish to use psychological or psychiatric help often have other needs, such as needs for befriending, social support, relief for carers, physiotherapy, pain relief, public recognition, legal or financial advice, control over old footage or photographs of the incident involving them or at least advance consultation about their use by the media, or further information about the circumstances of the incident which caused their suffering.



  22. Many of us, including those providing services to vulnerable people have operated during the troubles by not mentioning the troubles, not identifying ourselves or our true responses to certain situations, and being cautious or silent when troubles related issues were raised. This has meant that there can be a "conspiracy of silence" in organisations about the effects of the troubles. People are often fearful that if the issues are discussed, it will be divisive and lead to conflict, so they are ignored.

  23. Currently there is no specialist training available for psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, health visitors, general practitioners, teachers and other professionals to prepare them for the kinds of effects the troubles may have on their clients and patients, nor is there specific training or information on the range of appropriate services or approaches to use.

  24. Currently, there is one trauma team based in Belfast, which caters for the needs of people immediately after a major incident. This does not address the long-term needs of people, not does it cater for individuals injured, bereaved or traumatised in incidents where small number are involved.

  25. Three is an acute shortage of psychiatric help for all adolescents, so adolescents who require such help as a result of the troubles are unlikely to receive it. There are only six beds available in Northern Ireland for adolescents requiring in-patient psychiatric care. In 1994, 242 young people were held in adult psychiatric wards, hardly the place for distressed adolescents. Levels of outpatient support can be similarly totally inadequate. One adolescent we know of in the North West was offered a fortnightly phone call from a community psychiatric nurse as follow-up care after a serious suicide attempt.


  26. Currently, the major service providers providing dedicated services for those affected by the Troubles are in the voluntary sector. WAVE, whose main service is befriending and home visiting throughout Northern Ireland and who also provide a counselling service and facilities for children; Survivors of Trauma, who are a locally based self-help group in North Belfast; An Crann/ The Tree who listen and collect people's accounts of the troubles, Cunamh, a locally based project in Derry Londonderry, CALMS a project which offers training in stress management for local groups. Other voluntary organisations, such as CRUSE and Victim Support, which have experience of working in allied areas such as bereavement or the effects of crime, began to become more involved in working with those affected by the troubles after the cease- fires.
  27. The system of financial compensation for those who have been bereaved, injured or have had property damaged as a result of the troubles has also caused some disquiet and distress. There are wide disparities between amounts paid to those with apparently similar injuries. Compensation in the case of injury or bereavement is based not on need but on loss sustained, and is partly calculated according to loss of earnings. This means that some have received little or no compensation where the victim was unemployed, where others receive relatively large amounts. This is perceived as some lives being regarded as more valuable than others are. There are strong feelings amongst some that the system is unjust and insensitive.

  28. Those suing for criminal damage to property have also found the system of compensation unsatisfactory. Long delays in processing and paying claims, together with interest payment incurred on loans taken to rebuild or repair business premises has caused financial difficulty to claimants, and in some cases the collapse of businesses.

Where do we go from here?

Any initiative in this area carries a heavy emotional charge, and those injured and bereaved have often been used to further political agendas, sometimes at the expense of their own welfare. It is imperative that any new initiatives on so-called victims of the troubles (we prefer the term "people affected by the troubles") avoid further misuse of people's suffering and loss.

Provision that has been made elsewhere has fallen into the trap of raising unrealistic expectations on the part of those who have suffered, only to have their disappointment added to their suffering.

For these reasons the following suggestions are made:

  1. That all measures and initiatives are based on a clear understanding that the losses sustained by many people in the troubles are irrecoverable, and that no measure or compensation can possibly make good that loss. Everything that we can do is destined to be inadequate. We cannot bring back the dead, restore the maimed, or turn the clock back. Measures should not therefore be based on principles of restorative justice, but rather on the principles of meeting existing and future need.

  2. That the timing of such proposals be carefully considered, that nothing is rushed into and that a lengthy inclusive and exhaustive period of consultation with groups in the community is engaged in before any decisions are made or announced. This period of consultation is important given the rate of progress on the political process, and the lack of any settlement. All developments in relation to commemoration are dependent on a cessation of violence for the continued involvement of certain categories of people affected by the Troubles. Should violence recur, certain people may well consider their safety to be jeopardised by continued involvement in cross-community and other measures designed to commemorate or record the situation to victims. We can only hope that the politicians will recognise that their most important contribution to the welfare of victims is to ensure, through their negotiations, a permanent end to violence.

  3. For many people who have suffered in the troubles, one of the casualties was their trust in outside authorities. This should be recognised by such authorities, and confidence building measures aimed at those who have been bereaved and injured should be composed of the democratic involvement of this group in decision making about the kinds of services and initiatives to be embarked on. Only in this way can trust be built slowly.

  4. There is also a need for people in authority to listen and acknowledge the discontent and anger felt by certain people. It is imperative that the expression of this anger does not lead to defensiveness or reaction on the part of the authorities. Careful listening and acknowledgement, and where appropriate expressions of regret may be all that is required. It would be extremely helpful if authorities (and politicians) would recognise the anger and rage that are part of the response of those who have suffered most. In our view, this anger must be respected, without getting involved in conflict or arguments with people. People have a right to be angry and to express it, and it is a small enough service to listen and acknowledge the depth of their feelings.


  5. It is also suggested that there is a need for clarity and transparency about the long-term goals of any initiative on the situation of those affected by the troubles. It is suggested that the goal of such initiatives must be linked to the overall political process and should be:

    To contribute to reconciliation through healing of individual and collective wounds and hurts

  6. This could be achieved through initiatives which manifest:
  • the support of the society for those bereaved, injured or otherwise damaged
  • the recognition of the society of the suffering and loss sustained during the troubles
  • the acknowledgement of the sense of injustice of the suffering, which is commonly held but differently understood in the various sections of people who have suffered
  • the remembrance of those who have lost their lives for what they believed to be just causes
  • the practical support of those who have been injured in the Troubles
  • the specific acknowledgement of the suffering of civilians and non-combatants
  • a new willingness to acknowledge the suffering of people from all walks of life and sections of the community
  • a new willingness on the part of all of us to take responsibility for our part in creating and maintaining a society which has hurt so many of us
  • The regret and remorse of all of us about the hurts that has been caused.

The following practical measures and stages are suggested:


    In parallel to the measures suggested above, any process should not ignore the direct practical needs of those affected by the Troubles. There has been a total absence of public policy in relation to this area, a total lack of professional training and very little or no support for initiatives in the voluntary sector. This is partly due to a culture of silence and denial around issues related to the Troubles, which was part of our survival and coping strategies whilst the violence was ongoing. There is a need for an independent public body to act as a catalyst to "ginger up" existing service providers to make good the deficits in their policy, training and provision for people affected by the troubles.

  2. Part of this will involve the re-orientation of professional and organisational cultures, which is long term work. However, in the shorter term, as their part of the peace process, service providers must now be encouraged to re-examine their own orientation and practice, and to develop policy and practices which reflect the past and are appropriate to the new situation. Since the cease-fires, new needs have emerged and people have felt safe to come forward and seek services. We can expect that this trend will continue for some time to come.

  3. Such a body could be composed of:
  • representatives of service providers who are open to re-evaluation and re-examination of their services to those affected by the troubles
  • representatives of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, teaching, social work, nursing,
  • representatives of diverse victim advocacy groups - and the proceedings must be designed to empower them to participate
  1. Such a body would have the remit of examining the current provision for those affected by the troubles in terms of :
  • Medical services (including implications for medical training)
  • Psychological, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric services (including implications for training in these fields)
  • Financial compensation
  • Aids adaptations and support for carers of people disabled in the troubles.
  • Support groups and networks and the financial and other support for them
  • Provision within the education system, (including the management in schools of behavioural sequelae in children, the implications for teacher training, literacy and educational performance, and special educational provision)
  1. Such a body would be empowered by central government to report to them, and to liaise with and receive co-operation from the various professional bodies and government departments in preparing their reports and recommendations.

  2. Funding to support innovations, additional training and the improvement of services to those affected by the troubles must be made available to ensure that the work of such a body is actualised. Such a body could also be granted fund-raising powers, and could seek such funding in Europe or internationally.


  1. It is tempting for some to rush into establishing measures which "put the past behind us." However, the danger is that any such measures are premature. Many tensions still exist, and the talks process has not arrived at any settlement or conclusion. Furthermore, even were a settlement in place, the proposal to erect a memorial for those killed in the Troubles, whilst emanating from a laudable desire to commemorate and honour the memory of people killed, has great potential for increasing division and conflict.

  2. The issue, for example of whose names might be engraved on such a monument is highly contentious, yet exclusion of some names, and who makes such decisions to exclude, will not contribute to building an inclusive and peaceful society. For these reasons, it appears that to pursue the construction of a monument with names at this stage is not advisable. Should such a project be pursued at a later stage, it might be advisable to focus on a symbolic monument, which does not contain names.

  3. Such memorials have been constructed in situations where there are has been a clearer demarcation between enemy and friend, and where the enemy is often from another country. In Northern Ireland, the conflict is much more characteristic of ethnic conflict, and so the task of commemorating the dead is much more complex and riven with hazards.

  4. For this reason, it is important that the work involved in establishing measures to commemorate the dead or consider the situation of victims should move very slowly indeed, to avoid any pre-emptive action, and that generous amounts of time devoted at every stage of such work to public consultation. It is important that the process is informed by a set of principles and not deflected from those principles, yet is flexible and sensitive enough to respond to public responses and changes in the political context.

  5. It is important that a set of aims and principles on which such work is based are in the public domain, and are adhered to by those embarking on the work (see 36 above for a suggested set of principles.) This is crucial in order to avoid the inevitable to direct such work in a particular direction, and away from "the other side."

  6. It is particularly welcome that the Victims Commission is considering a wide range of ways in which the dead can be commemorated. Whilst the establishment of, for example, a public work of art will be important to certain sections of the community, it is important that commemoration is a process which is diverse enough to be accessible to people in all walks of life, and with widely differing priorities. The commissioningof a public work of art runs the risk of criticism on the grounds that the money would be better spent on those who have suffered. For this reason, a range of initiatives catering for a wider constituency is important.

  7. Commemorating the dead could be approached in a creative way, and in a manner, which directly addresses the individuals, groups, and communities worst affected by the Troubles. Forms of memorial which are socially relevant and which document and educate us about our differences and the diversity of our experiences could be included. The following is a possible package of measures which would meet these requirements:


  1. ESTABLISHING AN INDEPENDENT PUBLIC BODY: Public consultation & fund-raising. The establishment of an independent public body which would carry forward the work of commemoration and integration of the lessons of the past would be an important first step. Such a body must be independent, since the role of government in the conflict is not perceived to be neutral by all parties. This body could have the following remit:

  • to publicly consult and make recommendations and oversee the establishment of a Museum of the Troubles (see 45 below); a permanent monument to those killed (see 52 below);
  • to oversee the awarding of scholarships, bursaries (see 51 below);and
  • to oversee and manage the support to communities (see 49 below)
  • to seek international funding for such a project, which would be potentially very attractive to international funders.
  1. The composition of such a body could be a mixture of appointments and nominees from with various communities and other organisations with the relevant credibility, expertise and diversity. It is crucial that such a Board is representative of communities (both geographical and communities of interest) worst affected by the Troubles, as well as containing the relevant technical and other expertise.


  1. ESTABLISHING A MUSEUM OF THE TROUBLES: I would recommend that consideration be given to announcing the establishment of a museum of the Troubles, to which individuals, groups and communities be invited to contribute. Such a museum could act as an archive and as an educational and research resource and which could be open to the public and to schools. Contributions from, for example the Political Collection of the Linenhall Library, An Crann/ The Tree, and The Cost of the Troubles Study could immediately provide the backbone of such a collection.

  2. PUBLIC & COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION: Invitations to anyone who wished to contribute to such a museum could be issued, and the collection set up in such a way that it can contain conflicting and opposing perspectives, which can be cross-referenced to each other. These views would include those outside Northern Ireland whose lives have been touched by the Troubles.

  3. Technical and research support to communities and other parties who wished to create local displays or commemoration, and/or who wished to contribute to the museum's collection would be an important part of the museum staff's brief. Staff appointed should be capable of work in local communities as well as having research, display or historical expertise. This support should include financial support for communities in order to assist them establish appropriate local memorial events or symbols.

  4. Some geographical communities and communities of interest are beginning at this stage to "write their own history" in terms of what has happened to them during the Troubles. This is a very important development, which should be supported. By collecting such information, the past is being re-organised in a way that could be an important part of healing. This might eventually facilitate such communities in becoming more focussed on a future which is informed rather than determined by the past.

  5. CONTAINING DIVERSE VIEWS AND OPPOSING ACCOUNTS: It would be important that a variety of views, some of them opposing, could be contained in such a Museum, and that sensitive curating and cross-referencing be a part of standard practice. There are some models of good practice in this area, such as Brian Lacey's Siege Museum in Derry Londonderry.

  6. In our experience of mounting public exhibitions and in conducting research on troubles-related issues, it is also crucially important the those making contributions to public displays or exhibits are fully engaged and consulted about issues such as anonymity, libel and the dissemination of material that is likely to jeopardise safety. Delicate negotiations and tough decisions are part of this work. The right of the individual to speak out with immunity, versus the legal and moral requirements on those displaying the material is part of the balancing act. However, the end result is more than worth the effort. Making publicly accessible information about the views, experiences of the "other" community to people have proved to be of great interest to people who would otherwise have no access to such information. One can envisage such a museum containing various rooms in which diverse materials are displayed and that the overall museum contains a microcosm of the Northern Ireland conflict.


  1. OUTREACH Such a museum could also act as a proactive educational resource, which encourages the re-examination of the history of the troubles in ways which allow us to learn from the past, and apply those lessons in designing the future. Schools programmes, such as the existing EMU (Education for Mutual Understanding) programmes could be involved in using such a facility. It could also be used by further and higher educational programmes in Peace Studies, Politics, Anti-Sectarian Training, History and other forms of civic education.

  2. An important part of such a project would be an out-reach programme for communities, voluntary organisations, and others. This programme could take the spirit - if not all the contents - to the more inaccessible parts of Northern Ireland, where people have suffered as a result of the Troubles, or where people may wish to increase their understanding.

  3. BURSARIES AND SCHOLARSHIPS: Various memorial scholarships be established, perhaps in association with the Museum project so that:
  • resources are directed at increasing educational opportunities for those most affected by the Troubles, and that
  • scholarship and ethical and relevant research on the needs of those affected by the troubles, for example the development of pain management methods, is encouraged and supported.

  1. A MONUMENT: Part of the brief of the Board of the independent body could be to investigate and report on the establishment of a permanent monument to those killed in the troubles. This brief could include recommendations about the method by which it is designed, its location, and how the public might be involved in decision-making about it. If such a public monument is to be constructed, the design might be selected from entrances to a public competition. If the commission is to be given to professional artists, it is important to avoid associating it more with one part of the community than another. Consideration might be given to commissioning a consortium of local artists whose origins lie in the various parties to the conflict, and who are willing to work together in a manner which produces a monument which represents the tensions, diversity and possibility for creative collaboration between these parties.

Marie Smyth

Project Director, The Cost of the Troubles Study/

Research Fellow, INCORE

December 3, 1997.

* Calculations on estimated numbers of immediate family are based on the average household size for Northern Ireland (2.9) less the member of the household killed or injured. We calculate the total number of immediate household members affected by bereavement or injury by multiplying the average household size minus one by the total number killed and injured.

(See also a second submission by Marie Smyth made in the light of the 'Good Friday' Agreement)

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