No. 32 -“Victims are Part of the Peace Process”
Monday, 24 March 1999
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath
Marie Smyth (Cost of the Troubles Study)
Billy Stevenson (Head of the Victims’ Liaison Unit, NI)
John Wilson (Victims’ Commission, Dublin)
Don Mullan (Author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, and member of “Justice for the Forgotten” group)
Chaired by Kitty Harlin (Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Secretary on Agriculture and Rural Development)
Summary of main points
Addresses of speakers
Questions and comments
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS:
Marie Smyth, project director of the “Cost of the Troubles Study” outlined research into the emotional and physical scars of the Troubles. Over 3, 700 people were killed and as many as 60, 000 were injured in the violence of the past 30 years, she said. This meant that “about 150,000 people were living in families where someone had been killed or injured”. The full scale of the problem is still unknown – in one study over 50% of the bereaved had trauma symptoms 22 years after the event. Access to services was non-existent in some cases, isolation and self-medication are major problems, and in the worst affected communities the social fabric of the community has been severely affected. “Young boys and men are most likely to be victims and perpetrators – so there was a double risk for males”, she said. 91% of the victims were male, with the age group 19-20 accounting for the highest death rate. The Catholic death rate was higher than the Protestant death rate. Republican paramilitaries accounted for over 57% of the deaths, including 25% of Catholics killed. Loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for almost 28% of the deaths, including 19% of Protestants killed, while the security forces were responsible for 11% of all deaths.
Billy Stevenson, Head of the Victims Liaison Unit, NIO, outlined the work of the unit since it was set up following the Bloomfield inquiry report. 30 years of “virtual neglect” meant that an enormous amount of work had to be done, he said. The peace process has allowed people the space to talk. “For the first time victims have a voice and they are determined they won’t be left behind …we need to listen, even if what they say is uncomfortable”. Initiatives carried out by the Unit since last summer include a 5-month consultation exercise with victims, an educational bursary scheme, a Compensation Review Body, a survey of support groups and funding for pilot schemes to meet the needs of local communities.
Don Mullan: Calling for a tribunal of inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings – the single biggest atrocity in the history of the Troubles – Don Mullan said the families in the “Justice for the Forgotten” group wanted the whole truth – “only then will they find personal peace”. The families felt they had been forgotten over the years. The Omagh bomb had brought it back into sharp focus and now, 25 years on, many questions remained unanswered. There was a belief that the loyalists had not acted alone. “It’s not just about who did it – it’s also a question of public accountability”.
John Wilson: “A focus on victims strengthens the peace”, said John Wilson, Head of the Victims’ Commission set up in 1998 to conduct a review into the needs of victims in the South. Mr Wilson said that two themes kept recurring – acknowledgment and empowerment. Many victims feel a great sense of isolation and of loneliness, they can feel worthless and unwanted. Each case is unique – for many, “issues of truth and justice can be paramount”, for others “practical support is what they need the most”. Empowerment is about helping victims become survivors. The Victims Commission hoped to “give victims a voice”. “Victims more than anyone want to see peace” he said, but “putting the past behind them is no easy matter because these are people who will always carry with them the physical and emotional scars of that violence”.
ADDRESSES OF SPEAKERS
Guest chair Kitty Harlin introduced the first speaker, Marie Smyth:
1. Marie Smyth (Project Director, “The Cost of the Troubles Study”:
“Thank you very much. I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to come here this evening and to talk… Just to take up on some of the opening comments – far be it from me to defend politicians but I would just like to note at this point some of the politicians in the North at the moment are in very, very difficult places indeed. Some of the politicians involved in the negotiations can’t walk out their own front doors without an armed guard because their lives are in danger from their own constituents…. The second thing I would like to add is that there were two people killed last week. The second person was Frankie Currie who was a former member of a paramilitary organisation so some people don’t see that he’s qualified as a victim. What I would say is Franky Currie had children, a mother and a family and all the rest of it and those people are bereaved this week as well as the family of Rosemary Nelson. So unfortunately the deaths have gone on from Rosemary’s death and I think we really have to hope and have courage.. and see if we can manage to turn this thing around.
Cost of the Troubles Study: “…For those of you who didn’t have the dubious pleasure of meeting me the last time I was here  I’m a sociologist as well as a psychotherapist …however I just do research nowadays. I’ve been involved with a group of people in the Cost of the Troubles study all of whom were eloquently qualified to speak about the impact of the Troubles on the North of Ireland by virtue of the fact that they all had personal experience by either a bereavement or an injury in the Troubles and they composed the board of directors on the Cost of the Troubles study and I was responsible to them for the research I’m going to tell you about this evening. I was informed by their expertise, by their sensitivity to issues… I’m very fortunate as a researcher as I have real experts advising me, people who have actually been there and suffered and who are advising me on what not to do….
Statistics: “I just want to start by going through some of the facts and then I’ll tell you some of the things we’ve done. To date we’ve got in the North – and in the Republic of Ireland and in England and in Germany and in various other places – over three thousand seven hundred people have been killed as a result of the conflict in Northern Ireland. The official figure is lower than that, and we’ve got somebody here from the government side, who could correct me but it’s about three thousand three hundred …… About three thousand seven hundred is the total figure including the Dublin and Monaghan bombs, including all the other things that weren’t traditionally counted because traditionally the government only counted the deaths in Northern Ireland. Now I reckon that that makes about 7000 people living in nuclear families, i.e. mother, father and children – it doesn’t count grannies or uncles and aunts, just mother, father and children – living in that type of a family unit with direct experience of bereavement for somebody who has been killed in that unit. Now the official figure is 40,000 who have been injured. That we know is definitely too low because that’s only within Northern Ireland, when you include the people outside Northern Ireland that’s going to go up I reckon probably to 60,000 people who have been injured in the troubles. Again you can do the same type of calculation out that means that there are about 123,000 people who are living in families where there is somebody who has been injured by the troubles.
“If you add those two figures together you’re pushing up towards 150,000 people … that’s 150,000 people who are living in immediate families – that’s not counting next door neighbours or eyewitnesses and all of the rest of it – those are people who are just living in families who have very severe effects of the Troubles. We don’t know anything at all about the numbers of people who are permanently disabled either physically or emotionally as a result of the Troubles. There are many people who we have talked to who can’t go out of their houses, they are too scared to go out or who have panic attacks under certain circumstances.
“There are also people who have lost limbs and are in wheelchairs and all the rest of it, they are permanently disabled as a result of the troubles. That’s what we know about.
Research: “I’d just like to tell you what we’ve done in the last while and I’ll give you a little sample of what we found out. The first thing we did was we compiled a list of deaths in the troubles from 1969 and unfortunately we had to add to it last week. We keep it right up to date. On that list we have (for each death) the name of the person who was killed, their age, the date on which they were killed, their home address, the address at which they were killed, their religion, their status in terms of whether they were civilian or whether they were a member of the security forces or a member of a paramilitary organisation, the agency or organisation that killed them. In some cases we have their marital status and in some cases we have their occupation. So we’ve got all of that for 3,700 or more cases. It shows some of the result you’ll be looking at this evening but if we don’t get through it all there are several publications here … Now that’s the first thing we did. Through doing that we were able to classify the country into three kinds of areas. We had areas where the violence level was very high, because remember we had the home address of everybody who was killed and we also had the address at which they were killed. So we looked at how those deaths were scattered throughout the country and we found concentrations of deaths in particular areas and so we classified the whole country into three kinds of areas – areas where there was a lot of trouble, areas where there was a medium amount of trouble and areas where there was very little trouble.
People’s experiences: “Having done that we then undertook a survey – we knocked on 3000 doors right across Northern Ireland and we asked people a whole range of questions. We actually sent people out to people’s homes to talk to them and they all had the opportunity to tell us not to come if they didn’t want to talk to us and the interviewers were trained people .. who were able to deal with distress if the people got distressed. We collected all this information about people’s experiences of the troubles whether they had been eyewitnesses, whether they had got depressed as a result, or whether they had been injured themselves or whatever, whatever they’d seen or whatever they’d done, and also the effect it had had on them – had they moved house for example as a result of the Troubles, had they sleepless nights as a result of the Troubles, had they made changes in their political attitudes as a result of the Troubles and I’ll tell you a little bit about the results of that particular exercise as well…. We have interviewed now 78/79 people in-depth.
Methodology: “If I were to interview you I’d sit with you and I’d ask you really just those two questions, 1) “what’s your experience of the Troubles?” and 2) “how has it affected you?” and we’d talk until you had finished talking, until you had said everything you had to say. I’d tape-record it and we’d give you back the transcript and then we’d edit the transcript to take out all the names that you don’t want in it or ones that are too sensitive or maybe put in things that you forgot. I take the transcript back and I boil it down. We have an exhibition composed of a selection of those interviews right across a whole range of experiences of the Troubles. It’s in twelve sections and it’s currently in Armagh and we’re hoping it will be in Dublin in May. We’re taking it round the country and it’s also going to go to Westminster so the politicians can benefit from the wisdom of the people we’ve interviewed. So that’s the overview. .. We have a publication called Do you see what I see? and it’s done by children and young people. We interviewed young people and we asked them the same questions, we tape-recorded them, gave the transcripts back to them and took excerpts, then we gave them training in photography and they took photographs, and their photographs and their words are in the book and they’re telling us their experiences of the Troubles.
Impact of the Troubles: “So that’s the kind of work we’ve been doing and now I just want to zip through some of the results of what we’ve done. Don Mullan who’s here tonight knows very well the Bloody Sunday families and one of the first pieces of work that I did in this field was actually with the Bloody Sunday families.
“But if we were to ask a number of questions about the overall impact of the Troubles on the North – some of the first answers that I got was from talking to people who had been bereaved at Bloody Sunday ..
“Now first of all I have to say that the scale of the impact is not really known, nobody knows what the impact has been really and truly. If you’re asking about the economic impact, it’s very difficult to measure because of all sorts of other things that come in – like for example the British government put lots of money into industrial development… So in order to get a notion of the real effect you’d have to take that money out of the economy and look at what would have happened had it not been there. So it’s very difficult to measure, we don’t really know what the economic effect has been…
“As a result of talking to the Bloody Sunday families I discovered that roughly half of them had some severe symptoms of one kind or another, either severe sleeplessness or panic attacks or something that really disrupted their lives in some very important way and that was 22 years after it had happened. So roughly half of the people over 20 years later were still suffering as a result of what had happened 20 years previously. That’s kind of frightening when you think about the number of Bloody Sunday type incidents where there’s been multiple deaths, Omagh is the most recent example but there’s many others…. There are single incidents and we forget about them we don’t even remember them but you take them into account as well and what might be going on with people.
Isolation: “The other thing I first came across on Bloody Sunday but we found over and over and over again is isolation. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve gone into a house and I’ve interviewed somebody and they’ve talked to me for a couple of hours and at the end of it they’ve said “you know you’re the first person who’s sat and listened to me until I’ve finished”. Now that again is a terrible indictment. I was having a conversation yesterday with somebody who’s been working in the Omagh area and he was telling me that one of the things the Omagh victims have had to learn to cope with is how to handle all of the offers of help that they’ve had, people are coming out of the woodwork wanting to help in Omagh.. they’ve been terribly, terribly sad because these people have enough to worry about without having to field offers of help. Whilst those people are inundated with offers of help many thousands of people have no offers of help whatsoever. So I think that’s another thing that is worth bearing in mind.
How people coped: “Lastly in terms of how people coped one of the things that concerned me is the whole business of medication, the use of the drug alcohol to cope with their feelings. Particularly for women in the 70’s – GP’s were one of the few sources of help for people and what GP’s routinely did was prescribe tranquillisers and as we now know valium is an addictive drug and so we’ve very many people in communities who have been badly affected by the Troubles who have had long-standing drugs problems, they’re not on heroin or anything like that, they’re on prescribed medication. Similarly in the areas worst affected the level of alcohol consumption is phenomenal and the beginning age of drinking is very, very low. Kids are beginning to drink at the age of 10, 11 and 12 years of age in the worst affected areas. So again these are things we are worried about.
“We’ve interviewed a lot of people… let’s say for example a woman who has lost her husband, her husband is shot dead and she’s left with young children to rear. The woman is traumatised and is not able to cope. She’s very depressed, she’s antisocial, she’s just completely out of it. She’s been to the doctor and he’s given her tablets but they’re too strong I’d say. She’s unable to cope with her children. Typically the oldest child has to start rearing the younger children, and so we have a situation where those children not only have they lost one parent whose absent because he’s dead but they’ve lost the other parent because they’re psychologically absent because the person is traumatised and unable to care for them.
“So you have situations where apparently children have only lost one parent but in fact if you think about it they’ve lost both. We’ve interviewed women who have been in this situation – they will say with great regret and sorrow and a lot of guilt as well that they have no memory of rearing their children after their husband is killed or they’ll say things like “I wasn’t the mother of those children my eldest daughter was the mother” or “my mother was the mother”. There’s a great deal of difficulty of that kind.
Social fabric: “In the worst affected communities .. the social fabric of the community is damaged very badly. For example if something goes wrong in the community the community has lost the capacity to deal with that in a reasonable way that we would see in other communities that haven’t been heavily militarised. The resources within the community for example, particularly in communities let’s say in North Belfast where they’re surrounded on all sides by the other sort, where there’s maybe been a lot of sectarian assassinations where there’s been a lot of deaths in the community, people are very suspicious of outsiders they’re also very angry about what’s happened in the community and quite a lot of people in the community have a very short fuse. And that compromises the ability of the community to deal with things in a way that you would expect communities to deal with things. Violence is tolerated at a level which is really probably not good for people and of course people have had to tolerate violence because they’ve had to look at violence so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.
Males: “Finally, young boys particularly – it starts around the age of 10,11, 12 and it peaks around the age of 19 or 20 – males in those age ranges are most at risk from 1) being killed in the troubles and 2) taking up arms as a result of what’s happened in their community. So we’ve got a double risk that’s specifically for males in terms of being killed – and injured of course – and also the other side of that of killing or injuring other people. Do you remember my list of deaths? I was saying we had all this information on people… 91% of the people killed in the Troubles were male so death, the most extreme experience of the Troubles, is predominantly a male experience. That isn’t to say that women don’t suffer but they tend to have a different kind of experience completely of the Troubles than men have. So for example when I was a young person, when I was working in Belfast I had a team staff that were responsible to me in community work; I knew for example that I would send male workers only into the areas of their co-religionists, but with female workers I could probably afford to send a Protestant into a Catholic area or a Catholic into a Protestant area. With males that was a really risky thing to do because males were much more at risk from attacks in the Troubles as a whole. The other side of it is if we’re thinking about how we perceive the Troubles – males will see things very different to females in terms of what’s risky and what’s not. They live in two different worlds, where the risk when you’re a male is very different to the risk if you’re a female. .. If you’re as old as I am and you moved to Belfast or you lived in Belfast in the 1970’s you had a very different experience of the Troubles than say kids that I’m working with around the age of 19 or 20 or even 22-25. Those people have really experienced this part of the Troubles here and this is the deaths over time … the peak death rate of the Troubles was in 1972 when 495 people were killed in one year and we made a graph – and if you go to the exhibition you’ll see it .. each line of the graph is a death and we stacked them by year and it looks like this: 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 is 6ft 9 inches tall it goes straight up into the sky; so after that it comes down here to what is referred to as the “acceptable level of violence” – totally unacceptable but it is a lot less than what it had been in the early 70’s. So if you look at this time [graph showing early 70’s] your experience of the Troubles – the worst period of the Troubles – is much different to your experience of the worst period of the Troubles if you’re younger. Of course what I was already saying about ages is showing here ….. and you can see that the peak is around 19 – 20.
Cause of death: “Most of the deaths in Northern Ireland have been caused by shooting incidents followed by explosions and assault, people being beaten to death and that’s the lowest. Generally speaking fire-arms are responsible for the largest number of deaths.
Religion of victims: “Then we get on to the contentious one which is the religion of the victims [graph] – you can calculate this in various ways and I don’t want to get too complicated with you here, but if you take my word for it that no matter what way you calculate it … the Catholic death rate is higher than the Protestant death rate. That includes if you take for example some of these “not knowns” are security forces – if you take those out of that category and you attribute roughly 90% of them to the Protestant religion because roughly 90% of the Security forces are Protestant and you add them to the Protestant column it still doesn’t get any higher than the Catholic death rate.
“If you’re a Protestant in Northern Ireland that doesn’t square with your experience and it doesn’t square with your experience because we live in a very divided society where quite a lot of us don’t know a lot of the other sort – if we’re a Protestant living roughly in a Protestant area we don’t necessarily know about the experiences of a Catholic community.
Protestant and Catholic deaths: “We’ll look at Protestant deaths and who’s killed Protestants [graph of Protestant deaths by perpetrator]. You’ll see here immediately that 70% of Protestants were killed by Republican paramilitaries so if you’re a Protestant that’s your experience of what the Troubles is about. You might be aware of a few other bits and pieces but generally speaking that’s the predominant experience. For Catholic deaths that 70% becomes 25%, so if you’re a Catholic you see Loyalists as the most responsible agency for deaths in the troubles, 47% of Catholic deaths are by Loyalists. You can see that it depends on who you are, how you live and what your identity is, your overall picture of the Troubles will be.. If you’re a male you think this is very risky going into this area whereas if you’re a female you think this is OK and if you’re a Catholic you think Loyalists are the ones who are most responsible, if you’re a Protestant you think it’s the other way round.
Overall figure: “Take all deaths – never mind if they’re Protestant or Catholic – the Republican paramilitaries are responsible for 57% of all deaths in the Troubles so over half the deaths in the Troubles are due to actions by Republican paramilitaries. If you think about that and what I was saying about the two death rates, and that the Catholic death rate is higher than the Protestant death rate, then the conclusion that you must draw is that Republican paramilitaries have killed substantial numbers of Catholics. The other side of that point is of course that Loyalists have killed considerable numbers of Protestants. Overall the agency responsible for the largest number of deaths are Republican paramilitaries, followed by Loyalist paramilitaries followed by the British army, then you have the UDR, the RUC and civilians. Civilian deaths are deaths that are caused by, for example, in riot situations when you can’t attribute to a particular organisation and then there are some which we are not sure about and those are shown there [graph].
Political status of victims: “This [graph] shows the political status of victims and this shows overwhelmingly that over half the deaths in the Troubles were deaths of civilians – not members of paramilitary organisations, not members of the security forces but ordinary people going about their lives being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being the targets of sectarian assassinations, so overwhelmingly people who have been killed most often have been uninvolved civilians. Now can I say that internationally that is actually quite a low figure. .. Most casualties in the world now are predominantly civilians, it’s no longer where the soldiers went off to war – warfare has changed and this is now what is happening. In fact it’s low in comparison with other countries.
Help received: “I’m going to skip ahead and say a couple of things about a survey that we did. We knocked on doors and we asked people how the troubles had affected them and who had helped the most. Over two-thirds of the people we talked to said that their best help came from their spouse, their family or their neighbours. Half of them said that help was sympathetic and helpful, 15% said that it was just about adequate, 6 cases said that the help they got was harmful and 34 cases had help from no one. When we looked at what the people told us about the impact of the Troubles, we asked people – if you remember we had divided them into three kinds of areas, areas where there was a lot of trouble, areas where there was a medium amount of trouble and areas where there was very little trouble – we asked people first of all how much experience did they have of the Troubles here. These people here [graph] have a lot of experience of the Troubles, these people have a little less but quite a lot, these people have some experience of the Troubles, these people have a little experience of the Troubles, these people have very little and these people have none. [Pointing to chart] Then we asked them how much change the Troubles made in their lives. Some people said a complete change, some people said a radical change, some people said some change, small impact and none at all. Now let’s look at these people who have a lot of experience of the Troubles – they say that the Troubles have completely changed their lives, but actually they’re not actually much more than the people who say they’ve a lot of experience. The highest scores for all the groups are in the middle where they say the Troubles have changed their lives somewhat, not a complete change, not no change at all but most of the groups said that they were somewhere in the middle.
Stress levels: “I’m going to finish off by telling you about something we did with the data. You’ve heard about post-traumatic stress disorder – we did a little test within the questions and we put together a measure of the stress levels of the people we interviewed and then we analysed it. The first one was by gender so we looked at men’s and women’s experience of stress – and you can see that actually even though 91% of the people killed in the Troubles were males, and males were a higher risk and all the rest of it, their stress levels with females were quite similar. There’s not a whole lot of difference between them. Then we looked at stress levels by religion. What we find is that there is actually quite a significant difference in stress levels amongst the Catholics we talked to compared to the Protestants we talked to and again I’ll just remind you that the areas where we see the worst troubles are more often Catholic than they are Protestant. So that kind of explains why the Catholic stress levels are higher than the Protestants. Of course, as was to be expected, the stress levels in the areas with the highest intensity of violence were much higher than either of the other two areas.
Professional help: “The last thing we did was ask people where they got help from in terms of professionals. We found that 14% of the people we talked to had seen a psychiatrist and I would say that a lot of those people had seen a psychiatrist because they had to – because they wanted to sue for compensation from the Northern Ireland Office so it wasn’t that they were necessarily going for help just that they were going for a court report. Look at the figure for the local doctor which ties in with what I was saying earlier about the people going to their local G.P. and still to this day getting medication, getting drugs of one kind or another. Almost half of the people we had talked to had been to their GP as a result of the effects of the troubles. Nurses and social workers were much lower. Ministers and priests were quite high and again if you think about bereavement the minister is usually there when the person is being buried so you’re in contact with people. Community workers were very heavily relied on and other voluntary organisations as well. Thank you very much.”
CHAIR (Kitty Harlin): “Thank you very much Marie for all that information. It was an enormous amount to get through in such a short space of time but very useful and it must have been a huge task. Our second speaker tonight is Billy Stevenson and he is head of the Victim’s Liaison Unit in the Northern Ireland Office. This unit was set up after the Good Friday Agreement and follows on from the Bloomfield inquiry.
2. Billy Stevenson (Head of Victims Liaison Unit): “Thank you very much for the invitation to come here tonight. I hadn’t heard much about the Meath Peace Group before I came but I did read some of the literature that you’ve produced and it’s very impressive. It’s very important to promote dialogue in Northern Ireland, healing will come through dialogue. This and many other groups are very worthwhile and for that reason I’m very pleased to be here tonight.
“I’ll be using the term “victims” and I hope it’s not offensive to anybody but it’s the simplest term. “Survivors” is a better word and an even better phrase is “people affected by the Troubles”. It’s a difficult issue. It’s only just being looked at, there have been over 30 years of neglect of people who have suffered and therefore we have an enormous amount of work to do to try and make these people feel part of the peace process which is what your talk is about tonight. Victims are very much part of the healing which must happen in Northern Ireland.. They have in effect paid the price for peace…
Victims Liaison Unit: “Tonight I would like to tell you a bit about who we are, what we’re about, where we come from, what we’ve done and what we’re going to do in the future. Just a few dates to get the whole thing in perspective:
“In October 1997 the Secretary of State asked Sir Kenneth Bloomfield to look at the impact of the Troubles on individuals and what needs to be done to help them. He produced this report in April and it was launched in May and it was generally well received. For those of you who have read it I hope you will think it is one of the most sensitive government reports I personally have ever read. It doesn’t satisfy everybody all the time but I think it’s a very good start. It highlights a lot of very important issues which vary from individual cases of compensation right through to memorials, right through to truth and justice…It’s a massive agenda, a complicated mosaic that we’re trying to put together. The Victim’s Liaison Unit was formed in June 1998 to take forward the report which was accepted in its entirety by the Government. Somewhat naively probably we launched a consultation exercise as Sir Kenneth had asked. He wanted us to fill out a consultation on what he had recommended. We thought three months was about right. How wrong we were! The demand and the level of grief and hurt and pain and people just wanting pure recognition for what they had gone through is enormous, and we have been overwhelmed by the reaction we have received. Therefore we have taken longer to complete and finalise the consultation exercise.
Good Friday Agreement: “We must also not forget that as well as Sir Kenneth’s report the Good Friday Agreement is quite an important document in all of this. For the first time it lays down what needs to be done for the victims and the part that they must play in the process and again that goes back to the theme of your talk tonight. That brings us on to the questions of the future, the future Assembly, our politicians and how they will deal with the victims because it’s not going to go away. So the Good Friday Agreement and the Bloomfield report are the two base documents I would say… In our consultation exercise .. we started working with hundreds of individuals who have themselves been affected by the Troubles. People from all walks of life, from all situations. It has been a very privileged position to be in but also a very challenging one. Those of you who know Marie [Smyth] will know that she has worked for these people for years and they have my entire admiration. These people have a story to tell whether you like it or not…
“I say again that I think we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. The peace process has allowed people the space to come forward, to open their doors for the first time, to get some freedom to speak on what was done to them … even telling their story appears to be part of the healing. Telling their story is very important and it’s also important not to deny someone their story…….Some people did get appropriate help, I mean it’s not a case of noone getting help but generally speaking people did not get help they wanted when they wanted it at the local level. So there’s a need for people to come together to help each other ……. Counselling is a much used term, befriending is very often what happens at these meetings, in similar situations they can help each other along.
“What we have done:
Compensation: “Compensation is an enormous issue especially for people who are injured or bereaved in the 70’s.. The compensation scheme set down a certain amount, some people felt it was alright others feel very aggrieved at the process. So compensation is a very big issue and Sir Kenneth recommended that it should be looked at. He was then asked to go and do the review himself and he is now making the report which will be out I believe by June of this year and that will be a very important report.
Trauma Centre: “We established a new trauma centre in Belfast. This trauma centre is not going to be open to most people. It’s for people who have been very seriously traumatised and it will have a family therapy service and that centre is expanding it’s training outlets in all parts of NI and that will take some time. It’s going to be based in Belfast.
Pilot projects: “We funded some pilot projects – Marie’s probably been inundated with the amount of research that’s going on. I think Northern Ireland has been in a state of denial over the past 30 years, I mean look at all the research that’s going on about these people. We’ve given small amounts of money to some pilot projects on housing for the disabled and house-bound elderly and the young who were affected by the Troubles that are on-going. We’ve also funded victims groups.
Educational bursary: “We have introduced an educational bursary scheme. Many people say to us “please think about the children and the way it’s affecting them” and also people who had their education interrupted because of something that happened years ago and they have no jobs or dead-end jobs. We have just received over 500 applications for the educational bursary and this will help these people in many ways whether it’s to take a small educational course or go on to university or do their O-levels, just to advance their education so that they can someway move forward.
Funding of groups: “We set up another fund which is going to look after the funding of other groups and it’s also going to be a fund-raising and a fund distributing organisation as well. It’s going to look at the needs and come up with ideas such as the hardship fund etc. – those sort of things which will need ongoing sustained funding.
Touchstone Group: “We’ve also set up a group called the Touchstone group. It is a group of people who represent the interests of the victims’ groups from across the range of interests. It doesn’t include all of the groups but it represents the interests and that’s for the first time again the coming together of people from very different backgrounds, disabled police-officers working with relations of people who were killed by the security forces, and that is very important in terms of dialogue and that group meets once a month and it’s becoming quite a powerful programme.
Assessment of needs: “We’ve also tried to get a picture of where we are …Marie’s work has been very important in terms of where we are. We’ve also asked Marie to do another bit of research for us in terms of the needs of the groups – interestingly funding, counselling support services at community level are all coming out very strong. So we’re trying to get a picture of our needs and how those needs will be met… there are lots of funding bodies in NI at the moment using European money…. We’re trying to figure out who’s getting the money, where we are, what we’re doing, where the gaps are… so we’re trying to assess the need.
Future: “What about the future? Well I think I have indicated earlier that this thing will not go away and why should it? For the first time people are beginning to have a voice and they’re entitled to use the voice. Very often they are filled with absolute rage and hurt about what has happened to them and they’re determined that they will not be left behind in the peace process. So we need to listen to what they’re saying to us , even if what they say is sometimes uncomfortable, challenges how we go about doing things, challenges what we have done in the past. We each of us has a role and we need to try and build solutions. … We have much more to do in the future. We have much more to do in terms of recognising funding, just being more inclusive about these people. What you’re doing tonight I think is important that you’re basically educating yourselves about the situation which I suspect is not what you thought it was. It wasn’t what I thought it was and I lived there for 30 years through it all. These people have been hidden and they’re now becoming visible and that’s what the challenge is now.
“… So that’s really the frame of what we’ve been doing and there’s much more to be done which we’re very committed to doing in the future. Thank you.”
CHAIR (Kitty Harlin): “Thank you very much for that information Our next speaker is John Wilson. He is head of the Victim’s Commission in Dublin. The Commission was set up last summer as part of the Good Friday Agreement and he is due to report on his findings after Easter. He was a former Minister for Education and Tanaiste and we are delighted to ask him to speak.
3. John Wilson (Head of Victims’ Commission): “First of all I want to thank the Meath Peace Group for the invitation to come here and to speak. The government appointed me Commissioner, I never had ambition to be a commissioner but I am commissioner for victims and I think it’s an appropriate place to come, the Boyne river flows through Navan and that has a certain significance, more significant in some parts of the country than Co. Meath. I want to say that this particular place where we are speaking [Dalgan] has a strong relationship with victims and victimhood because the first and last time that I was here it was at the funeral of a man who was a victim of the Chinese revolutionaries in 1948. So this particular institution is not without knowledge of victimhood both in China and in Chile and elsewhere. I think that you deserve great credit for having started this peace group and informing yourselves about the problems in our own country. We go to Church every Sunday and we hear the words “My Peace I give you, My peace I leave you” and we go away. We agree with it of course and the peace group here in Meath informed it with action and played a part in letting the people know what was happening, the importance of peace. And we know what happened when there was a referendum North and South – an overwhelming percentage of the people in the south accepted the Good Friday Agreement and over 74% in the North accepted it and it was through people being informed about realities of what was happening that that came about. Since I’ve been appointed I’ve had great help, great assistance from various people, not least from people in Belfast, from South Africa, from Archbishop Tutu who showed wisdom and commitment and …succeeded in making great advances in that country….
“I think I will have to make a special mention of Marie Smith who spoke here tonight. The last time I met her she had published 40 different papers on the situation in Northern Ireland. Now it’s some time since I counted, it may be 58 by now!
“I have to make recommendations to government as a result of the studies that we’re doing, people that we’re meeting, the people that we’re listening to. We’ll shortly have the report ready but I have to make recommendations to the Government so I’m not going to anticipate it by outlining to you what the recommendations are here tonight.
Good Friday Agreement – Context for the Victims Commission:
“For most of us the Peace Process is about the future and hope for the future. It is about putting the conflict and violence of the past behind us; it is about building a new Ireland, an agreed Ireland in which all traditions on this island treat each other with mutual respect and in which there will be prosperity for all. Maybe that’s a large demand but it’s what we should be pushing for. Those who have been affected directly by the violence of the Troubles have more mixed feelings. Putting the past behind them is no easy matter because these are people who will always carry with them the physical and emotional scars of that violence.
“For most of us, also, the Good Friday Agreement and the Peace Process are synonymous. While the Agreement states “that the achievement of a peaceful and just society would be a true memorial to the victims of violence” it also recognises that this is not enough and that – “it is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation”. The Taoiseach also recognised this when he said, in May last, that “there is a moral obligation on those of us in a position of political leadership and on the wider public to be particularly sensitive to the needs of victims”. While, as I have said, the agreement gives us hope for the future, it has also to be recognised that it would not be a real agreement if all parties agreed 100% with everything in it. This is particularly true for victims. As the Taoiseach himself put it “this time of hope is also for some a particularly painful one and it is apparent that certain aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, in particular those relating to the release of prisoners cause some victims very substantial difficulties”.
“It’s true, we have met a large number of victims and the strange thing about it is those who are most severely affected themselves, both physically and mentally, were the people who tended to say “if this Agreement stops this from happening to someone else, however much I hate the release of prisoners I go full along with it”. That was very encouraging to me also. The Taoiseach also, at that time, acknowledged the feeling of isolation felt by many victims and pledged that the Government would in consultation with the victims themselves consider what further steps should be taken to address their particular needs.
Victims’ Commission: “It was in this context that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O’ Donoghue TD, obtained the approval of the Government to set up the Victims Commission to conduct a review of services and arrangements in place in the South to meet the needs of victims. Needless to say I was deeply honoured to have been invited to carry out this review. I believe that not only is the job I was asked to do a very important one in its own right, but it may also be a very valuable adjunct to the Peace Process. I believed then as I do now that a focus on victims strengthens the peace. By focusing on the human tragedy of the victims of violence we see the full cost of the alternatives to peace. My conviction in this regard has been strengthened by the aftermath of the horrible tragedy that was Omagh. This horrendous act, which was intended to wreck the Peace Process has only strengthened the resolve of those working for peace. I hope that recent deplorable murders will have the opposite effect to that intended by their perpetrators.
Terms of Reference of Victims’ Commission:
1. “To conduct a review of services and arrangements in place, in this jurisdiction, to meet the needs of those who have suffered as a result of violent action associated with the conflict in Northern Ireland over the past thirty years, and to identify what further measures need to be taken to acknowledge and address the suffering and concerns of those in question. This would include, in particular, consideration of the following:
• the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement in relation to victims
• the needs and concerns of persons, who have sustained serious injury, and members of the immediate families of those who have died or sustained serious injuries in the services of the State as a consequence of violent acts ensuing from the conflict
• the needs and concerns of victims and the families of victims of major outrages including those of the Dublin, Monaghan and Dundalk bombings. That particular list includes the greatest number of victims of any single atrocity since the troubles began North and South.
2. “To advise on how the support given to victims by their families, in helping them to cope with the immediate aftermath and continuing consequences of violence, can be acknowledged and sustained.
Work of the Commission: “You will see that no target date for the completion of the review has been fixed in the Terms of Reference. We intend to impose our own target date and that is in the very near future… I believe that it is important that all victims get a chance to be heard and I did not wish to compromise the thoroughness of the consultative process, which is a key element of this review, by setting a fixed target date. I have run well beyond the original target date I set myself precisely for that reason.
Consultations: “The work I am carrying out involved extensive consultations both within this jurisdiction and in other jurisdictions. These included consultations with various agencies of central and local Government who are responsible for providing services and support to victims e.g. the Department of Health, the Department of Social Welfare, Health Boards, County Councils, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Criminal Inquiries Compensation Tribunal. They also included consultations with voluntary groups or agencies working in the field, not only in this jurisdiction but also in NI and in other jurisdictions beyond that.
The victims: “Last but definitely not least are the consultations with the victims themselves and their families. These consultations formed the greater part of my consultations. I have met victims from all four provinces, from Donegal to Wexford, from Antrim to Cork and from Galway to Dublin. This has been a very humbling but also enriching experience. One cannot but be moved by the tragedy that has been inflicted on so many lives, on the victims themselves and on their families. It has been quite harrowing at times to feel the lasting sense of loss which these victims feel – even as much as a quarter of a century after the events. A mother whose son was in the whole of his health was admitted to the mental hospital the day before yesterday, having gone through hell since then, a loyal and loving mother who has suffered even more than the actual victim himself. A woman who would like to lay a bunch of flowers on her son’s grave but doesn’t know where it is. In this particular job I suppose one must control one’s emotions but one cannot be totally legalistic, cold in the face of tragedy itself.
Courage of victims: “I have also been deeply impressed by the courage and determination shown by many of the victims and their families in dealing with this loss and in dealing with the disabilities which have been inflicted on them as a result. I have been particularly impressed by the courage and determination of the women involved. It was pointed out, by Sir Kenneth Bloomfield in his report, that while the majority of the victims of violence, particularly those killed, are men it is the women who are left behind to grieve and pick up the pieces and to get on with life and in some cases bring up families after these events. I have also been struck by the role of women in the voluntary organisations dealing with victims. I have been deeply impressed by their efficiency, their commitment, their understanding and their sensitivity.
Needs of victims: “In looking at the needs of victims it is important to recognise from the outset that each case is unique and, as the Taoiseach said in May last, “There can be no predicted or prescribed way to come to terms with loss and pain. The equal reality and validity of each individual experience must be fully respected. For many, issues of truth and justice can be paramount. For others, practical support is what they need the most. These practical needs can be many and varied, including such things as counselling, moral support and financial support. Many may need continuing specialist care in such areas such as psychological and psychiatric medicine, plastic surgery, management of pain, prosthetics. The disabled will need rehabilitation and may also have special housing and transport needs. You can see from this list that many victims will have to deal with a number of different local and central Government agencies as well as voluntary groups in order to get the help they need. So it is clear that there is a need for practical help, particularly immediately after an event, in helping people to get the help they need.
Recurring themes: “While each victim’s case is unique and their need are different, it is also clear that there is much they have in common. It should be quite clear to all of us from the aftermath of the dreadful events in Omagh that grief and suffering transcends all differences, religious, political or otherwise. Grief and suffering are not the unique property of Protestants or Catholics, Unionists or Nationalists, Irish, English or Spanish. From my experience with victims and with people working in that field, two themes keep reoccurring. The first is acknowledgement and the second is empowerment. Many victims feel they have been forgotten about, that they have been swept under the carpet. As a result they can feel a great sense of isolation, of loneliness, they can feel worthless and unwanted. I said at the outset of this job that I hope to give victims a voice. I have redoubled my determination to do so and I ask you to listen to that voice both for your own sake as well as theirs.
Empowerment: “Empowerment is one of those buzz words we hear a lot nowadays and we are not entirely sure what it means sometimes, but I will tell you precisely what it means in this context. Empowerment is about helping victims become survivors. Paradoxically in helping victims we can do too much and, at the same time, not do enough. The best help we can give victims is to help them to help themselves. It is clear from talking to victims that there are many areas in which they receive no help. It is also clear that when they did receive help it was often given on the giver’s terms and the victims had no say in how it was applied to them. The wrong type of help can do more help than good.
“It can often happen, after a major disaster, that people can get a rush of blood to the head and great efforts are made to organise disaster funds and immediate relief. In the immediate aftermath there is lots of help and the victims are insulated in a cocoon of carers or deluged in a wave of sympathy and media attention. Then when the story disappears from the front pages, this flood of help and attention suddenly dries off and they are left to fend for themselves. It would obviously have been better if they were perhaps given less help and attention in the beginning, if the help they were given were geared to getting them back on their feet, and help were to continue for as long as it is needed and not drawn away suddenly.
Loss: “Another thing which is common to all victims is the nature of the loss. This is an irretrievable loss and it is very important to remember this. There is no way we can make good the loss no matter what we do. This is illustrated by a group of the mothers of the disappeared who still parade around the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires demanding of the military – “you took them away alive, take them back alive”. If you are tempted to feel that the demands of the victims are unreasonable remember that.
Victims’ Own Views of the Peace Process: “Victims more than anyone know what it means to have peace. Victims more than anyone would not wish the suffering they have endured on anyone else so you can take it that victims more than anyone want to see peace. Like the rest of the population what they see as the prerequisites for peace is determined by their political outlook. How trustworthy they think the various parties are also depends on their political outlook. Consequently there is, I believe, as wide a spectrum of opinion among victims as among any other group. This is not to say that the circumstances of their victimhood have had no influence on their political outlook. However the effect is not always predictable. In some cases it seems to reinforce existing opinions sometimes to the extent that victims go on to become perpetrators themselves. In some cases – and I think this is the majority of cases – it gives people pause for thought and prompts them to re-examine some of their ideas.
Release of prisoners: “One aspect of the Good Friday Agreement which causes difficulty for some victims is the release of prisoners. In the south this is particularly sore for the families of murdered Gardai who are seeing the very people who murdered their loved ones walk free from jail. There are others who have great difficulty with this even though no one was ever caught for murders of their loved ones. This is a major issue for victims of the Troubles in the South. For the most part no one has been caught or convicted for their maiming or the murder of their loved ones. Consequently, most of them tend to be quite sanguine about the release of prisoners. “If it is a part of the deal and the deal brings peace, I am all for it”, they say and “We cannot keep them locked up forever”.
Truth: “For this group truth tends to be a prominent issue. Because no one was ever prosecuted they have never been officially told the whys and wherefors of their loved ones’ deaths. In some cases, this vacuum of knowledge has been filled with much speculation. Some of these victims feel that both the British and Irish Governments would like them to go away and stop asking awkward questions. They fear that, with the focus on the future, their concerns about the past will be pushed to one side and forgotten. Others suggest that with the new spirit of North-South and East-West co-operation the time may be right for a proper joint investigation of their cases. They are hopeful that, in more politically settled circumstances, there can be more openness about what really happened.
Disappeared: “This applies not only to those who believe that there may have been a hidden hand in the murder of their loved ones but also to the families of the disappeared. They are hopeful that a political settlement may make it possible for them to get loved ones’ bodies back. Vying with their fear of being forgotten yet again is a hope that, in the coming to a close of the conflict, it may also be possible for them to get what they need to bring some sense of closure to their personal ordeals.
“I’ll conclude by saying thanks again to the Meath Peace Group. Thanks for your organisation, thanks for your efforts to inform and thanks for your full commitment to the ideals of peace and reconciliation.”
CHAIR (Kitty Harlin): “Thank you very much John …We will hear questions later. The fourth speaker we have is Don Mullan and he is from Derry originally. He is here tonight to represent the group “Justice for the Forgotten” made up of some of the families of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. He is perhaps best known here for his work of the victims of Bloody Sunday and for his book Eyewitness Bloody Sunday.
4. Don Mullan (Author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday;speaking here on behalf of the Justice for the Forgotten group):
“I want to extend my thanks to the Meath Peace Group for inviting me here tonight. …. One of the things that has been concerning me over the last number of months – and maybe in some ways it has been brought into focus with a group called “Relatives for Innocent Victims” – I think there is a great danger that we categorise various victims into good victims and bad victims. I think the reality is that every human life is precious and irrespective of what background they come from, what religion they belong to, at the end of the day they are human beings and they have families and loved ones and we all suffer and feel the same way.
Inclusiveness: “That’s so important that we bear that in mind. I suppose I’m always concerned about this idea of isolating different people because this peace process has to be about inclusiveness, it has to be about listening to unpalatable truths even though we may not like them. I have been appalled by many forms of paramilitary violence as much as anyone here as well as many forms of State violence and I think we’ve got to find a balance there. I worked in Brazil with the very famous Brazilian Archbishop called Dom Helder Camara and he wrote a book called Spiral of Violence and he talked about there being basically three levels of violence. The primary violence … is the violence of injustice, the denial of basic civil or human rights. I think that’s something we’ve got to focus on. I grew up in a Cregan estate. I remember hanging out the window of my home in the early days of the Civil Rights movement and hearing in the distance the voices of angry men engaging with the RUC, I could hear the CS gas and I remember thinking would this ever reach here, and indeed it did reach my street and many, many sad stories could be told by neighbours and friends and indeed many of my neighbours and friends ended up joining the paramilitaries. But the one thing I have to say, and I think this is very important, the community which I belonged to were not born with a genetic defect which made them prone to violence.
“They did not become violent because that was part of their nature and I think that, as part of the process that we’re involved in now, politicians and law-makers and commentators also have to look honestly at the corrupt institutional violence which in a sense contributes to corrupting human beings. That’s one of the things that I feel very angry about, when I see how many lives have been wrecked, maybe not actually physically injured but just in terms of the impact of the Troubles particularly in small communities.
Bloody Sunday.. “I was there, I saw it happen, I know the people were unarmed, I know they were innocent, I know they were murdered and yet for so long those soldiers were never brought to justice and indeed we often thought they never would be brought to justice and still the jury’s out as far as we’re concerned.. .We’ll wait and see because we cannot forget the impact of Widgery – in the face of murdering innocent people, he went on to murder the truth. The alienation that that created in my community, a loss of respect for law and order, for the institutions of law and so on. The impact in terms of the decisions people made …
Gary English: “And I often look at young men caught up in violence and I think but for the grace of God there go I. So I think it’s very important that we remember that. Let me tell you a story of a neighbour of mine, Martine, and she had a boyfriend called Gary. He was a lovely man and I often stopped and spoke with Gary – a great supporter of Manchester United and we often talked about various things that interested us. But one Easter Sunday around 1979 there was an Easter commemoration, a Republican parade up to the cemetery, there was a huge security presence, helicopters, armoured vehicles, troops and so on, tension was high. Often inevitably when that happens the tension would eventually break up into a riot.
“You may be surprised when I say that for many people a riot can be very entertaining. People go along, not to participate, but simply to watch and on this particular Easter Sunday a large group of people were standing near the cross-roads where the Cathedral is and, unknown to those who were watching, two armoured vehicles came down the hill and just at the last minute people heard these engines coming towards them but two bodies got hit in the back and were thrown like rag-dolls across the cross-roads. What I’m going to tell you now is something which others will testify to…. the second vehicle reversed over one of the bodies in order to finish him off. The guy who was reversed over was Gary English – Martine’s young boyfriend. Now for two years his father tried to get those soldiers brought to justice, for two years the system closed down and tried to protect itself and protect the soldiers. Eventually he did get the soldiers into a court of law in Belfast and not with a charge of murder or manslaughter but on a charge of reckless driving. I can remember that day being in Dublin and hearing the 1.30 RTE news on the radio and hearing the voice of Mr. English on the radio and hearing very clearly his disillusionment, his bitterness, his anger that the soldiers who murdered his son and another young Derry lad were allowed to walk scot free. The story didn’t end there, two years after that court case – four years after the murder of young Gary – a young provisional IRA volunteer is standing in the streets of Derry with a rocket launcher waiting to attack an army vehicle, a mobile patrol coming along. He’s standing with his face down and looking around the corner and clearly the safety catch wasn’t on, it must have been a very sensitive trigger and he touched the trigger and launched the rocket and it blew up in the street and killed him and the name of that young Provo was Charles English, Gary’s younger brother. This was a family who had never been involved with the Troubles before, never any record and who were drawn in. So I think it’s very very important that we just don’t talk about isolating people like that because very often they are people who have a story to tell themselves. I’m not in any way trying to justify them and I often say to people when I tell that story I don’t agree with the decision taken by Charles English to join the IRA in order to get revenge for his elder brother but what I can say is from the community into which I was born I can understand it. I can understand why a young man in that category as Marie had up there, people who are the most vulnerable – the 19-22 age-group – can make those decisions.
Dublin and Monaghan bombings: “Can I just also say that I think it would be presumptuous of me to say that I’m here tonight representing some of the families of Dublin/Monaghan because as Mr. Wilson well knows the families are very capable of representing themselves. But I have, thankfully with the invitation of many of the families, become part of the “Justice for the Forgotten” campaign and it was suggested that I look on it on the basis of my work in terms of Bloody Sunday. That campaign actually represents over half of the families who have lost their loved ones. There were 33 people killed, I think it was 31 families in all who lost members in that tragedy. There are now 18 families, and it’s growing all the time, who are now part of this campaign. Let me just very briefly run through some of the memories of that day because again it’s become blurred. Mr. Wilson again pointed out that this still remains the biggest single atrocity in a single day in the Troubles, bigger even than Omagh. 33 people died on that day – an entire family (the O’ Brien family), a young mother of 21, a father of 22, a 9 month and a 17 month old baby were wiped out that day. A mother who was nine months pregnant was killed with her unborn baby on that occasion… [tape ends]
Unanswered questions: “This atrocity remains an open wound. There are many, many unanswered questions. The three bombs in Dublin all detonate inside the space of 90 seconds and that was either tremendously professional, or it was very lucky, but when you look at the consistency and the mix of the explosives used, it detonated almost 100%. Again that was either very lucky or very professional but when you put the timing and you put the chemical mix of the bombs together, this was not an amateur job and there’s a very strong belief that the Loyalist paramilitaries who delivered the bombs were not acting alone.
“Indeed no one claimed responsibility for those bombs until 1993 when Yorkshire Television brought out a documentary in which they linked Loyalist paramilitaries with British intelligence and members of the British Security forces. Now we know that within a very short time 8 names of prime suspects were known to the Garda detective branch and the Garda Special Branch. It would appear that when those names went northwards the trail ran cold. There are questions as to whether the Guards informed the Irish Government of their difficulties with the RUC. I have spoken to a very senior former member of An Garda Siochana who told me that at the very least the Minister of Justice would have been appraised of those names.
“That means at a very high level, within cabinet level, in the Irish Government at that time they would have known those names. Did the Irish Government make representations to the British Government if the Garda Siochana were having difficulty with the RUC? …. There are many many unanswered questions and understandably the families believe that there is a cover-up for whatever reason. They believe that they have been left in a limbo of suffering and they have a campaign statement part of which reads “Closure will only come once we have been told the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.
“All the things that Marie talked about: isolation – they felt that terribly over 25 years; trauma – one only has to meet the families and indeed some of those who are survivors of that date are unredeemably traumatised and were never given proper help at that time or since. There was no counselling available to them. The Omagh tragedy brought it all back to them in very, very sharp focus for the victims of Dublin and Monaghan. They’re left looking at this and thinking… like “it’s very important that people are responding to Omagh, that they are reaching out to help the victims but why isn’t there or was there not a similar kind of reaching out to us?”. It’s almost like, and I don’t mean this in an offensive way, that Omagh has become kind of sexy and safe whereas the people of Dublin and Monaghan you know talk in terms of “we’ve been abandoned, we’ve been treated like lepers”.
Truth: “So their campaign now is focusing on trying to have a tribunal of inquiry established in order that the truth might eventually be told. But at this point almost 25 years later it’s not just about establishing the truth in terms of who murdered their loved ones and who was involved in the planning of the operation and the delivery of the bombs and so on, but also in terms of public accountability, in terms of the politicians and police authorities at that time with regard to many of the questions that I’ve already raised with you tonight. It remains as with many many of the victims who feel that they have never been properly listened to or responded to, it remains an open wound, there is no closure. It’s almost as if they’ve been condemned to a perpetual wake.
Tribunal of Inquiry: “Closure will only come when they know the truth. I think therefore that anyone who wants to help – particularly during this 25th anniversary year the victims of Dublin and Monaghan – I think that the best way is to listen to what the victims want. What do they want – not what do I want, I’m not interested in pushing anyone else’s agenda. I’m only interested in pushing the agenda of the truth and particularly the truth that the families want and it’s very clear they want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and I believe the only way that can be established now in terms of the biggest mass murder case in the history of this island is through a tribunal of inquiry. I think only after they know the truth, will they find personal peace for themselves and will they be able to allow their loved ones to rest in peace which is the wish I think of all victims of the Troubles. Thank you very much.”
CHAIR (Kitty Harlin): “Thank you Don. Certainly listening to everybody it seems that the healing process is going to take a long, long time, so much damage has been done.
Bridge Centre, Omagh: “The next speaker was to be Sean Collins but he’s unable to be here. Sean works at the Bridge centre in Omagh. He is part of the trauma and recovery team set up immediately after the Omagh bomb of the 15th of August 1998 which claimed the lives of 29 people and two unborn children. Over 370 people were injured at the time, 60 very seriously. The trauma team was set up to address the immediate welfare needs and the longer terms psychological needs of their own population and comprises social workers, nurse therapists, psychiatrists and pschiatric nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists, an art therapist and a bereavement consellor. The team has funding for two years and also receives support and practical assistance from voluntary groups…. The Bridge centre is named after a poem of one of the young victims Sean McLoughlin aged 12 from Buncrana:
“Orange and Green it does not matter
United now don’t shatter our dream
Scatter the seeds of peace over our land
So we can travel hand in hand across the Bridge of Hope”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS (Summary)
Q1. Julitta Clancy: “I’d just like to thank you all for coming and I’d like to ask Don – how far have you got with the tribunal of inquiry? Also, Don spoke about the need to know the truth … how much does this apply to all the victims and should there be a Truth Commission at some time?
Don Mullan: “What I can see happening in the families in the last six months is a growing belief in themselves, a new found confidence. Quite frankly, at this stage, I don’t believe it’s a question of will we get a tribunal of inquiry, I believe it’s a question of when will it be, because I think they are entitled to it. I have no doubt there will be a battle and there will be very strong political opposition to it in the same way that the families of Bloody Sunday experienced it. But I believe there’s a determination there. It’s more difficult … Bloody Sunday was an attack on an intimate community whereas this was an atrocity that happened in a big city with the families spread out across the city, across the nation and indeed across Europe. But they’re coming together now and certainly in the last three or four weeks from what I can see they are becoming much more focused, much more articulate and indeed they’re meeting the Taoiseach next Tuesday and I believe it’s the first time in an official capacity that the Taoiseach has met with the families so again I think that is a sign that the political powers in the country know that this campaign is gathering strength and gathering support and I think around 40 TDs have actually supported their call for a tribunal of inquiry including the leader of the Labour Party. In the absence of something like the Truth and Reconciliation committee which was so ably chaired by Archbishop Tutu I think that families would have no other option but to go this way, particularly in relation to Dublin/Monaghan and I support their demand for a tribunal of inquiry.”
Marie Smyth: “A couple of things I’d like to say. First of all the need for truth. One of the things that concerns me in my professional capacity, somebody who’s supposed to deal with emotional upsets, mental illness and all that kind of thing, that the danger of confusing the righteous and proper anger of people who have been denied the truth and indeed also been denied justice, with emotional upset and mental illness, is a grave one.
“I think many people who have been affected by the Troubles have proper and righteous and understandable anger at what’s happened to them and at the fact that they haven’t had any sense of closure because they haven’t known or been told about what’s happened, nor have they had any sense that justice has been done or been seen to been done and I think that that will make anybody crazy and I think that the cure for that in fact is not counselling but it is the proper provision of information and justice for people. I think that that is something that is very important.
“Now if I could move to the question on whether or not there should be a truth commission in Northern Ireland. The difficulty about a truth commission in Northern Ireland is the difficulty that a truth commission has anywhere. It’s particularly pointed in Northern Ireland. It’s a supply and demand problem. There’s plenty of demand for the truth but there’s a bit of a problem on the supply side. A lot of people want to hear truth but there’s very few who will stand up and speak it in terms of telling what they have done, what they have been responsible for and indeed we have a major crisis about responsibility in Northern Ireland. … You know people who have gone to South Africa and said that the Truth Commission there was great – and I think that’s not entirely true by the way but even if it was true I think you had in S.Africa a very different political situation where you had a complete change of Government where the former terrorists moved into the new Government. That is not the case nor will it be the case in the forseeable future in Northern Ireland and therefore a radical gesture such as the establishment of a Truth Commission, I really can’t see it being feasible in Northern Ireland, if indeed it’s desirable, and I have some questions about its desirability because if you look at the South Africa experience, the experience of friends of mine who went forward to give evidence about their victimisation in South Africa was not an entirely satisfactory one. First of all it was traumatic for them and secondly they were left nearly in the position they started out on after the Truth Commission was over ….
John Wilson: “Could I comment on that? First of all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa wasn’t 100% successful but it achieved a great deal and it achieved a great deal through the wisdom of Archbishop Tutu who said that the if people – the apartheid people – were put through the courts it would take years to do so and the wounds in society would be opened wider and wider and it would be impossible to run the place. The second point which I think is very important is that the native African people are a forgiving people and I doubt I can say that about my fellow countrymen who take up opposing sides in the North of Ireland or indeed in the South of Ireland. I don’t’ think there is the same forgivingness in their character. I don’t think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be effective in our circumstances for the reasons Marie just gave and the reasons I’ve just given now. Perhaps down the road it might be possible but the fact of the matter is that the big complaint that I have is that all the perpetrators of the violence in South Africa had to admit what they did and admit fully and then they were pardoned. They didn’t have to say they were sorry and that went very hard on some of the victims.
Billy Stevenson: “Could I just say that the people we have met, the desire for the truth is what a lot of them want. Not all – some people say “I don’t want to know, I want to move on” but a lot of people want to know the truth. Some want the complete truth and that means everybody needs to tell the truth about what they did and whereas it’s easy to open the files on one side, the files aren’t going to be open on the other side and what is the truth anyway? …. Courts work on the balance of evidence and they make decisions on what is available. The longer you leave it the more difficult it is to get evidence, 25 or 30 years ago. So anyway there is a need for truth but the mechanism I don’t think will be like South Africa – it will be something different if it ever happens. Perhaps the truth is beginning to filter out in Northern Ireland. People are telling their stories, people are listening to them in a non-judgmental way. I think the truth will drip slowly and I can see that happening.
“But I admit that not to know the truth – like the people from the Dublin/ Monaghan bombings, the Omagh bombings and the people from the single incidents who have been long forgotten about, and let’s not forget them as well. After the Omagh bomb I remember people saying it was the biggest atrocity in Northern Ireland, and a woman said to me “the biggest atrocity was the day somebody planted a car-bomb and murdered my eight year old daughter”. It’s a personal atrocity they were talking about here….”
Q3: “You were talking about the truth – if any of you heard the programme on Loyalists a couple of weeks ago, most of the loyalists interviewed had absolutely no regrets for what they’ve done. Martin McGuinness has also expressed no regret for what he’s done. In a sense we’re all victims of our history… Presumably if I lived on the Falls Road I would have no understanding of Orangeman. I think if the truth is important we have to sympathetically try to understand our enemy. If there is to be reconciliation in Ireland I think it is to come from the Nationalist side, understanding the symbols of our tricolour which expresses an all-embracing nationality of Protestant/ Catholic perception ….
John Wilson: “The most important thing in the tricolour was the white for peace. Green white and orange. The white actually signified peace.
Questioner: No, it symbolised an all-inclusive nationality.
John Wilson: “That’s the same thing.”
Questioner: “No the nationality was to achieve the legislative independence of Ireland. In that way it meant peace because you couldn’t have orange and green winning Irish freedom unless there was peace.”
Q4: “I just wondered about the juxtaposing of prisoners and victims. It’s just for the consideration of John and Billy. I just wondered whether it was in the remit of the work you’re carrying out at the moment and the work that Billy’s doing to consider prisoners as victims. Don has gone into detail about how easy it is for an impetuous young man to join a paramilitary group as a result of something directly affecting his/her family. I’d like to ask either Billy or John to comment on that and maybe for Marie – are there any statistics available about those who have been in prison in the North and those who have been directly affected by the Troubles?”
John Wilson: “…The prisoner is a victim, the prisoner is deserving of my consideration..”.
Billy Stevenson: “We have certainly met many prisoner’s groups. I think there is a controversy here and I think that’s why you’ve asked the question because some of the people who would class themselves as victims do not class prisoners as victims. I think the prisoners can be victims. I won’t say that all prisoners are per se victims but I think there’s something in there…
Marie Smyth: “This is something I have to think a lot about because obviously we have to decide who we are going to interview and how we are going to classify them. First of all I’d like to say that there has been a confusion in my mind about perpetrators as a population and prisoners as a population. They’re not the same thing. There are many, many people in Northern Ireland who have committed acts of violence, who have ended other people’s lives, who’ve damaged other people, who have never been charged or convicted of anything and have never been prisoners but they are perpetrators of acts of violence. So I think there has been a scapegoat on prisoners and they have been made responsible for everything that’s happened in the Troubles. But in fact they’re not, there are lots of people who got off scot free who have never been charged with anything.
“The second thing is, on my money, a victim is somebody who has been personally bereaved or injured in the Troubles, and you can interpret that any way you want. So there are victims who then make a choice of going forward and joining a paramilitary organisation and doing something and they get caught and get put in prison. The two events are connected and maybe qualify but they’re not the same thing, in my view. I think a victim is somebody who has been bereaved or injured and there are certainly prisoners who have been bereaved or injured but they’re not victims by virtue of being prisoners, if you see what I mean. They’re victims by virtue of being bereaved or injured so I think that will be my answer.
“One thing that is very important to say is that there are many, many people who have been bereaved or injured and who have never taken up the gun or the bomb or harmed any other people, in fact I would say most of the people who we have talked to have been very severely affected by the Troubles say exactly the opposite – that they would not do that because they don’t want to inflict the pain that they’re suffering on other people. So I think you have to have some way of differentiating between the choice people make not to reproduce violence and the choice to reproduce violence.
Q5:Cllr. Phil Cantwell.(Independent, Trim UDC) “Just to tell the meeting and Mr. Mullan that I’m happy that Trim Urban Council actually passed a motion that the Taoiseach will have an inquiry into the Dublin/Monaghan bombs. The second point is that I have met somebody in Derry who was a victim and, like you mentioned, he didn’t respond. His shop was blown up in 1972. His wife is now dead, he lost his business, he lost everything. He was awarded compensation about 20 years ago, but he still hasn’t got a penny. I went into the compensation agency, they’ve lost his files. I don’t think they can tell the truth. … The British Government haven’t even addressed the relatives of the people who were killed in the helicopter going across the Mull of Kintyre. So this is where we look at the Unionists at the moment, they don’t trust the Irish, they don’t trust the British. So it’s a big, big problem of knowing where to turn to get the truth. .. People are hurt, but worst of all they don’t know where to turn to get the truth and that’s a big problem…
Q6: … . “The peace process has to some extent now come together with Governments working together.. with a formula for working together. Should there not be much more emphasis – I know Billy talked about it – on community groups, on touchstone groups, in other words much more recognition and substance and resources being put into them so that the communities on the ground can rebuild, giving the local victims a place to speak at which they can account for the pain that they went through but also help those communities to rejoin together, to rebuild communities for the future. That’s ultimately the cornerstone on the foundation of future communities that will live together as opposed to the institutions which have great difficulty in establishing the truth or acknowledging the truth but maybe individuals on the ground may do it more effectively, more efficiently and in the long term with more results.
Marie: “I think you’re absolutely right. There’s two things I’d have to say. …basically, in my view the paltry resources that have been delivered to servicing the needs of victims is a disgrace and there’s no doubt about that, and I think the resources need to be increased and … the priority has to go to the agencies and the places where victims have their best help. Victims have had their best help from their families, from their communities. Not the people like me, not the people like Billy, not doctors or anyone else, but from their own local people and their own local communities and I think part of that has to be about equipping those communities to do better what they’ve done so often in the past and to supporting them in doing that.
“The second thing I think that’s very important – and we’ve learnt from experiences elsewhere …. in the period of coming out of violence of the past, when we’re in transition, the level of criminal violence in communities that have been worst affected by the Troubles goes through the ceiling.
“In South Africa at the moment we have a major, major problem with criminal violence and the murder rate is higher than its ever been because basically one kind of violence is being replaced by another. There’s an explanation for that, I think, and that is that in a lot of these communities, violence in the past has been, in the eyes of the community, a legitimate way of pursuing political goals. One of the major jobs that has to be done in communities immediately is a de-legitimisation of violence – right across the board. That’s a job that only local communities and local people can do with their young people and their community leaders and I think that that also has to be supported and that’s a great service to the victims because it prevents more victims being created.”
John Wilson: “I think in the North voluntary organisations are better organised than here. But I do know that it would be very difficult to depend on the communities of say South Africa to do anything effective because they don’t trust the police and there are whole crimes to which the police don’t react. I was in a place near Cape Town and on the Cape Times the following day there was a photograph of a native man being paraded through the village by the citizens, by the local community, being whipped because they accused him of rape and they reported him to the police and the police did nothing about it. So when you have a community like that you don’t see how the community would be effective in developing relations between the two groups.
Chair (Kitty Harlin): “Thank you all very much. I think it is a huge subject. I will close the session now and I would like to say that on community and voluntary groups, our own organisation [Irish Countrywomen’s Association] has for the past eight years been involved in exchanges with the Women’s Institute from all over the North, we’ve had groups of them coming to the South. Just a week after the Omagh bombing here in Co. Meath, we were expecting a bus load of 48 women from the WI and we did not think they would come but they did and we were delighted to receive them. We listened to them, we talked, they stayed overnight with us, we enjoyed having them. We felt helpless listening to them. Everybody knew someone, extended families, neighbours or whatever so I’m afraid at that stage all we could do was cry with them, but they went away and we are happy to say they have invited us back up on the 23rd of April. Now this has gone on for the past eight years. It’s our small way of talking to the women, of trying to get them to see that we’re not all bad and that some of us have the same aspirations and the same concerns and are just as upset when those things happen as they were. So I’d like now to thank the speakers who came so far to talk to us and to all the trouble they have put into their presentations. Thanks to all of you for coming. I would also like to thank the Columban Fathers for giving us the room here tonight. And to the Meath Peace Group – well done, good luck, keep up the good work. I would now like to ask you to give a minute’s respect to the people who died in the bombings and in the Troubles in the last couple of years. Could we stand and have one minute’s silence.”
Meath Peace Group Report: August 1999. © Meath Peace Group.
Transcribed by Sarah Clancy from video tapes recorded by Anne Nolan. Edited by Julitta Clancy.
Acknowledgments: Meath Peace Group would like to thank all who came to the talk and all those who have given continued support, encouragement and participation through the years. Special thanks to all who assisted in the planning, organisation, publicity and recording of the talks, and to our speakers and guest chair. Thanks also to the Columban Fathers at Dalgan Park who have hosted most of our public talks.
The Meath Peace Group gratefully acknowledges the assistance given by the Community Bridges Programme of the International Fund for Ireland towards the running costs of the talk.
Meath Peace Group committee 1999: Julitta and John Clancy, Parsonstown, Batterstown, Co. Meath; Anne Nolan, Gernonstown, Slane, Co. Meath; Pauline Ryan, Navan, Co. Meath; Philomena Boylan-Stewart, Longwood; Michael Kane and Paschal Kearney, An Tobar, Ardbraccan