Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Oscar Daly, Consultant Psychiatrist

  I write as a psychiatrist with an interest in the whole area of trauma to express to you my personal view regarding how reconciliation might be sought.

  I believe reconciliation is fundamental to future peace. Whenever a war ends, whether by peace process or because one group of combatants stop, the same dynamics originally present persist with risk of further violence unless there is reconciliation and a change in attitudes. During periods of violence there is the process of emnification? in order to kill, one has to dehumanise not only the enemy but also one's self. For true peace, which is about recovery, healing and a reduced need for retribution, one needs de-emnification.

  To move forward one needs to exorcise Plato's ghost (he said there is only one universal truth) and we need to recognise that many truths are valid. The process needs to be a non zero sum game so that each side is a winner. Clearly, leadership will be vitally important. Superordinate goals should be set, ie goals which are important for both sides and which cannot be attained without co-operation.

  It must be accepted that healing is a long, slow process. It is important for individuals to tell their own story. With a careful approach one can tell the story in a way that is emotionally safe and constructive. It must be recognised that, whilst it is very important for survivors to remember, remembering, which can be healing, can also reopen wounds. Testimonies, which should be heard in public, may be very shocking to survivors, those bereaved, etc. because of the cruelty and brutality of the testimonies. While there will not be the opportunity to offer release from prison for testimony, the offer of amnesty, which would legitimise the actions, for him/her, of the perpetrator testifying, must be considered.

  In my opinion, perhaps the approach most likely to succeed in attaining reconciliation is probably a public health approach rather than purely a legal or mental health approach. Understanding the causes of violence and the associated trauma can lead to recovery. Vicarious traumatisation, not just in the past, but of those involved in any reconciliation forum is an issue which will also need to be addressed. Essentially, the past needs to be addressed at various different levels including societal (as in the TRC in South Africa), community, family and individual (as in a simple trauma model).

  As noted above, healing and reconciliation will be a slow process but, if planned and developed with great care, such a process can help society in Northern Ireland successfully deal with the past.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 14 April 2005