The challenges faced by the people of Northern Ireland have been prominent in the press lately. With the widely-reported border issues related to the Brexit process, the breakdown of the Northern Ireland Executive and frequent reports of consultations to address the legacy of the ‘Troubles’ that blighted the region for decades, it seems that once again Northern Ireland and its historical conflict is in the public consciousness in a way not seen for 20 years.
I grew up in England in the 1990’s and I can honestly say that I had little knowledge of the pain and the suffering caused by the ‘Troubles’. From speaking to friends and peers, it seems this is not unusual. For a long time, the problems that the people of Northern Ireland faced were just not talked about to any great degree on this side of the water. I’m sure, however, if you are a survivor or victim of the ‘Troubles’, if someone you love was killed, if you were injured or received psychological injuries as a result of a ‘Troubles’ related incident, then your awareness of the legacy of that time is inordinately painful and not something that will ever leave you.
There are some amazing services in Northern Ireland offering support to some of the people mentioned above. The Victims and Survivors Service in Northern Ireland commissions a wide range of organisations to provide psychosocial and clinical interventions for people who have been affected by the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Organisations such as Wave Trauma Care offer a specialist approach to supporting victims and survivors, and offer training to individuals and organisations in Trauma Informed Practice.
Whilst the above is much needed and expertly delivered, the Stormont House Agreement (2014) recognises the needs of victims who do not live in Northern Ireland. 622 people from the Island of Britain were killed during the ‘Troubles’, and it is believed that thousands of people received physical or psychological injuries as a direct result of their experiences of a ‘Troubles-related incident’. In addition to this, according to a Northern Ireland Assembly report, Northern Ireland lost approximately 20,000 people from its population during the years correlating with the ‘Troubles’. So, we can assume that a large proportion of the Northern Irish diaspora living in England, Scotland or Wales are also in need of services – given that we know the associated injuries can be lifelong.
A new service for victims and survivors in England, Scotland and Wales
In 2003, The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation was commissioned to produce a report which made recommendations for supporting survivors and victims of the ‘Troubles’ who live in England, Scotland and Wales. Since then,we have campaigned for services to be commissioned to meet these recommendations. In 2017, we were finally successful in our campaign and the Victims and Survivors Service in Northern Ireland commissioned two Health and Wellbeing Caseworkers to provide services on the island of Great Britain.
We now have a full-time member of staff offering health and wellbeing support to victims and survivors of the ‘Troubles’. This is me – and I couldn’t feel more privileged to be able to fulfil this post. As a team member on the Survivors Assistance Network, I frequently came into contact with victims and survivors from the ‘Troubles’ who had not received appropriate services to help them with their very specialist needs. Unfortunately, the expert approaches to Trauma as a result of terrorism, that are so advanced in Northern Ireland, were never fully developed on this side of the water due to a perceived lower level of need. One of the incredible things about my job is that in some cases, where the statutory services are struggling to accommodate individuals’ and families’ specialist needs, I can ask for funding to help people access appropriate support and services.
So, if you didn’t know I existed, you do now. Do get in touch, I’m here to help in whatever way I can.
by Donna Craine – VSS Health and Wellbeing Caseworker / Survivors Assistance Network