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Submission by Marie Smyth to the Northern Ireland Commission on Victims
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THE COST OF THE TROUBLES STUDY
Unit 14 North City Business Centre, 2 Duncairn Gardens
Belfast BT14 2GG Tel/ Fax 01232 742682 Tel 01232 747470.
Funded by CCRU, NIVT/Peace and Reconciliation Fund, Making
Belfast Work, The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and private
Submission by Marie Smyth to the Northern Ireland Commission on Victims
People affected by the troubles
- what is the scale of the problem?
- 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.
- 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
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:
- 91% of those killed were male;
- 37% were under the age of 24, 53% were under the age of 29,
and 74% were under the age of 39;
- 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%;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.
- 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.
APPROACHES TO THE ISSUE
- 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.
- 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 LEVEL OF NEED
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
SERVICES TO THOSE AFFECTED BY THE TROUBLES
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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
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
For these reasons the following suggestions are made:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
AIMS AND GOALS
- 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
- 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 specific acknowledgement of the suffering of civilians
- 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:
- A BODY TO PROMOTE SERVICES TO THOSE AFFECTED BY THE TROUBLES:
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
PROPOSAL FOR A MONUMENT
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- BURSARIES AND SCHOLARSHIPS: Various memorial scholarships
be established, perhaps in association with the Museum project
- 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.
- 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.
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
(See also a second submission by Marie Smyth made in the light of the 'Good Friday' Agreement)