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Residual matters relating to victims of the Troubles
in the light of the Agreement document by Marie Smyth
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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
Residual matters relating to victims of the Troubles
in the light of the Agreement document
(To be read in the light of the earlier paper)
I have made the following notes based on my understanding of the Agreement
document, and the concerns it raises in relation to victims. It has been
read avidly by those we work with, and generally the response has been
favourable. Therefore I think it is important, given that the Victims commission
is mentioned in the Agreement, that any undertakings in the Agreement are
seen to be delivered on.
The second stimulus to the following remarks is a consciousness that
we as an organisation have been performing some of the functions outlined
below, particularly those in relation to providing information and non-financial
resources to local groups, and those of providing information on international
approaches. We, however, will go out of business at the end of thjs year,
when the funding for this project finishes. In my view, this work is valuable,
particularly in supporting and bringing together those working in this
field, and in encouraging local communities to begin to audit the effect
of the Troubles on them, as a precursor to developing local initiatives.
It is important that this work should be continued by someone.
- Crucial role of Victims Commission: Whilst the inclusion of victims
in the agreement document of 17 April, 1998 is welcome, it refers and relies
on the work of the Victims Commission to provide the substance of the response
to the situation of victims. This means that any findings or measures recommended
by the Victims Commission will be linked to the agreement, and the ethos
of the agreement.
- International expertise: The agreement makes particular mention
of areas worst affected by the troubles, and the need to support community
based initiatives in such areas, which should not only be financially supported,
but should also be resourced with expertise based on "international
best practice" established in other societies coming out of violence.
This will involve locating such international expertise, and making it
accessible to local communities, in accordance with community development
- Deconstructing silence and denial: Many of the established
voluntary and statutory organisations operating in this field have not
addressed the issue of victims of the Troubles, and may have some difficulty
in doing so, due to the long-standing culture of silence and denial that
has surrounded these issues. Such organisations should be supported, through
training, organisational development and other initiatives, to begin to
formulate organisational policies and goals around meeting the needs of
those who have suffered in the Troubles.
- Allocation of resources: The agreement also makes mention
of "services that are supportive and sensitive to the needs of victims...
channelled through both statutory and community based voluntary organisations
facilitating locally based self-help and support networks. This will require
the allocation of sufficient resources, including statutory funding as
necessary, to meet the needs of victims and to provide for community based
support programmes." It will be important that those responsible for
resource allocation have a sound understanding of the field and are able
to evaluate proposals from a broad perspective. It is to be recommended
that those with personal experience of bereavement or injury are involved
in these processes. It is also crucial that some objective method of evaluating
need is adopted, so that resources can be directed at the communities and
groups that have suffered most, not merely at those who are good at obtaining
resources. Support should also be provided to communities in order to assist
them to access resources where the level of need is high, but where the
community infrastructure does not exist to obtain resources.
- The need for a dedicated Trauma Centre: As we mentioned in
our earlier meeting, the needs of victims are diverse, with a small number
requiring skilled psychotherapeutic treatment of conditions such as Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder and the aftermath of torture. We have found that
even though the numbers requiring scale of this need are limited, the situation
of people is often totally disabling, and the need is not likely to disappear
for at least a generation. Visitors to Northern Ireland are shocked that
there is not a professional Trauma Centre already established, and in our
experience, there is a skills deficit in the professions in recognising
and treating such Troubles related conditions. Furthermore, some professionals
appear to think that no special skills or knowledge is required for treating,
for example, victims of torture. Local practice has been to rely heavily
on medication, which is not in accordance with the state of knowledge in
the field. Given that there are, in our estimation, several hundred people
at least who suffer severe symptoms as a result of failed assassination
attempts, witnessing brutality and so on, we would argue in favour of establishing
a specialist service. This should be located outside of the normal mental
health services perhaps housed within an independent body, in order to
avoid stigmatisation and local professional politics. In such an initiative,
local professional people coming fresh to the problem can be trained according
to international best practice, and sent if necessary to Helsinki or Cape
Town to gain the requisite skills and expertise. In my view, such an initiative
should glean what it can from international experience in the field, and
the appointment of advisors from international sites of excellence, who
can act as sources of advice and support would be an invaluable resource.
- Services for young people: Furthermore, there is a shortage
of NHS facilities in mental health in general, with a doubling since 1992
of children and young people held in adult psychiatric wards in Northern
Ireland. There are a total of 6 residential psychiatric beds for young
people in Northern Ireland.
Children and Adolescents in Adult In-Patient Psychiatric
Facilities in Northern Ireland
||% increase over
Source of baseline data for each year: Mental Health Inpatient System:
Department of Health: increases calculated by author.
Young people, particularly young males as a priority: Given that
the agreement document specifically prioritises young people, and given
that our research shows that young people, particularly young (Catholic)
males are at the highest risk from death in the Troubles, it is important
that the support services and provision to young people are urgently reviewed.
The major children's charities should be galvanised in this work, to lend
it credibility and independence in the communities worst affected. In such
communities, both Catholic and Protestant there is widespread disaffection
from government agencies, and I fear for the effectiveness of any new initiative
from that source. Services to children and young people are currently woefully
inadequate, and require urgent review.
- Family support and therapy: Specialist family therapy services
will also be important in providing support for families who have not been
able to cope with, for example, the impact of bereavement. We have evidence
of parents being unable to fulfil their parental responsibilities because
of the impact of a death or trauma on them.
- Rebuilding the social fabric of communities: Much of the thinking
about victims of the Troubles has focussed on individuals and families.
However, whole communities and communities of interest have been damaged,
the culture of violence has been established in such communities and the
social fabric seriously damaged. If there is to be a lasting peace, the
work of rebuilding that social fabric in such communities is of crucial
importance. This has been a challenge faced by many societies coming out
of violence, and again, we should learn from the experience elsewhere.
- Training for mental health and general practitioners: Some
of the resources allocated should, in my view, be used to provide better
and further training for mental health and general practitioners in recognising,
referring on and treating the mental health sequelae to the Troubles. What
is urgently required is a competent service to which they can refer on,
and this point was dealt with above in relation to the establishment of
a Trauma centre.
- Training for new and existing professionals: In other professions,
such as social work, teaching and nursing, professional bodies should be
provided with effective incentives to initiate the inclusion of new training
at basic, post-qualifying and in-service levels. This new training would
ensure that people practising in these professionals are equipped to recognise
and deal appropriately with the effect of the Troubles on people they come
into contact with.
- Resources to support self-help and social support initiatives:
Many of those who have suffered require social support and self-help opportunities.
Contrary to what might be supposed, the establishment of social support
networks and facilitation of self-help initiatives is skilful and work,
which requires a sound knowledge base in human services. Specifically,
workers in this field must be able to build the capacity in local communities
and support local initiatives with expertise, information and access to
a wider network. People who have been victims of the Troubles, in our experience,
often do not have the personal resources to manage and operate organisations
without the support of paid workers who can carry the day to day responsibilities
on their behalf.
- Democratising services & accountability: It is crucial
that such initiatives remain genuinely in the control of users, since the
"professionalising" of services may well provide cuedos for professionals,
but it further stigmatises and disempowers people. What is called for is
a new professionalism that makes itself genuinely accountable to its patients
and clients in a way many of the professional services in Northern Ireland
have not done until now.
- Employment of former victims: Where possible local people
and those who have personal experience of surviving loss in the Troubles
are employed in such schemes, and in any new initiatives for those affected
by the Troubles.
- Establishment of an independent body of "experts" with
personal experience of loss/injury: Consideration should be given to
a permanent independent body or commission that would advise, support and
promote work with victims of the Troubles. Such a body should be multi-disciplinary
and accountable to (or composed of) a Board of people who have personal
experience of loss and injury in the Troubles. Its remit could be to influence
existing services to gear themselves towards Troubles-related needs, and
to advise and provide resources for local communities who wish to establish
local self-help and other services.
- Trust and acceptablity of new services: In the light of recent
developments and the response to the Victims Commission, thought must be
given to the participation and accessibility of any new arrangements to
both of the main traditions in Northern Ireland. It should be remembered
that those bereaved and injured by security forces are often understandably
mistrustful of state provision, and often reluctant to participate in,
for example the consultative exercise on the Victims Commission, or to
use state services. It is part of the healing process that provision should
take these fears into account and provide services that are acceptable
to the people who need them.
- Public awareness: In the course of our research, we have
concluded that there are two worlds in Northern Ireland. The first world
is the mainstream one, where the impact of the Troubles is limited to news
broadcasts and occasional fear, inconvenience or upset. The other world
is that inhabited by those who have been severely affected by the Troubles,
where everything is significant in relation to the Troubles, every street
has memories or dangers, anniversaries bring it all back. Most people do
not know about this second world. Yet an appreciation of how much people
have suffered is an important motivator for people in the task of building
a peaceful society. Educational programmes, that are not sensationalist,
or focussed on one incident or group of people should be established so
that public understanding of victims' medium and long term experience is
- Truth and justice: For some people who have lost family members,
there are strong feelings of injustice in cases where there are unresolved
justice issues, missing bodies, unanswered questions. For these people,
resolution or healing is often impossible in the absence of knowing more
about the circumstances of what happened to their loved ones. The Victims
Commission must address the situation of these people, by some formal public
means, so that their quest for more information and public acknowledgement
of what happened is satisfied as best it can be. We recognise that this
is a difficult area in the context of a wider agreement involving prisoners
and parties with links to paramilitaries. However, the situation of these
people could be put to those parties, with a view to coming up with an
agreed mechanism by which the situation of victims' families could be realistically
I hope these remarks are helpful.
The Cost of The Troubles Study
The United Nations University /University of Ulster
22 April, 1998
Marie Smyth © INCORE 1998