Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Written Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Shankill Stress and Trauma Group



  Countries through the world have a Bill of Rights, various in size and content and enshrine many written words, which are only just that "Words". In N Ireland our Bill of Rights must be written in words that the least educated can read, concise, precise and to the point. We believe they must not be open to interpretation by any grouping, Governmental, Political or Culture, but it must cater for the minority. Being no smaller minority than one I would believe our Bill of Rights must be an empowerment document for the individual person. Enshrined therein must we be clearly lead out an understanding that any grouping is only as powerful as the individual no more, no less, it must be an inter departmental approach to the singular need. From cradle to grave and beyond and encompassing the basic right to live in a civic society and have a voice which cannot be silenced by a louder one. It should not be designed to bewilder generations with little knowledge, and so it will not be a shiny fat document without any meaning, and prepared if necessary on a street to street consultation of the draft for approval 60 pages of sense and sensibility would be better than 600 of waffle and fudge.

Truth & Reconciliation

  Prior to my thinking of this nature we must decide and so should Governments, was 1966 and onwards troubles, Conflict or War?

  Trouble by definition is something that causes inconvenience, upset, unrest, in our belief we did not have "Troubles".

  CONFLICT would indicate a Strife, Quarrel, to be in Variance with or to Struggle. So, did we have conflict?

  WAR Conflict between Nations or Parties, Military in context, to make War.

  Did we have War in N Ireland? The Government would indicate so, many people have War Pensions in one way or another, and Para-Militaries claimed prisoners of war status, so do we require, A War Crimes Trial?

  Having ruled out Troubles, Question Conflict and it is open for debate that would leave probability of War with Pensions and Prisoner Status, again a point to debate.

  Conflict may require inquiries, if we ever could prove liability or Truth, is the question running through every form of combatant it would seem Truth is down to memory recall Soldier or Para-Military Official Secrets Act to Oaths, which to date has caused more pain and anguish than Truth Recovery. What if we ALL woke up one morning in unison and spoke Truth, it would be our belief that our Communities on every side would either turn in on their own, and finally when we bury all our dead the final act may be to join together and destroy the Irish and British Government Buildings, with a tiny proportion of poplars left standing in our areas. We then proceed on the middle and upper classes who stood and watched whilst our communities suffered and who now have created a growth industry from victims, again these are points for discussion!

  Will the Truth really set us free, and from what? Don't all victims already know the Truth, thousands died leaving behind grieving families, as many more were blinded, deafened, amputees, walking wounded, and God only knows how many minds will never recover from the Trauma of our innocence in Northern Ireland. In an ideal world free from fear and harm, conflict and corruption all around, are we looking for Truth or are we looking for Recognition of a journey of Injustice, the same injustice has now transferred from the top to the lower classes on either side, it is called summary execution or near enough. "When will we ever learn"? The answers are really blowing in the wind, and perhaps my community are not living in the backwoods as they have great knowledge that the Truth may be more aching than the event that led many to seek it. Will we heal with Truth or open Scars that will be unending and a legacy for those even yet unborn.


  In the absence of Truth many have truly reconciled, one community to another by discovering we were all Pawns in a big boys game, we have taken risks, held out hands, listened to their pain and walked in others shoes. The WE were not always trusting or tolerant at one time. Perhaps today many are not yet there, but are keen to find a way through even in the wake of extreme hurt. These people are not the highly paid Community Worker, Solicitor, Judge, or Politician. These people are the same who are missing someone, hurting, mentally and physically, but when it boils down every day.

  Language we never saw in any documentation, "To Anne, a Para-Military, Republican, Loyalist, Soldier, Policeman, Shopper, Innocent or Guilty, Oh no it was always to Anne a son/daughter 7lbs l2ozs, Blood group neither orange or green. People and Governments should not label neither should we? We are of the opinion if all Truths were known and if one Truth only one is hidden reconciliation will never be possible, and so more Finance. 30 years of attempting to find a way forward has been thrown out of the bath along with the baby. Is life times wasted by those who kept our Communities sort of together, most of them givers of life "Women" with total support from their families who unknowingly gave them wings.


  Some do, some don't, some will, some won't. "To cease to feel resentment", To Pardon.

  It would be our belief as Christian reared and indeed our wish to say, "The Lords Prayer" in truth, but most of us who know our perpetrator, and it's a low percentage who actually do, and ever find it in our hearts to Pardon. Perhaps the easy answer is, there is a Judge who will be bigger and have full knowledge of each heart, and he does listen to excuses and lies. Many of our victims will know after death who was pardoned, who was not and that is also something else up for discussion and not by Churchmen unless they are victims.

  "To cease to feel resentment" many of us have learnt to put the author off a deed to the side, to forbid them free space in our head. It is a coping tool for many it has to be for even many more, as the percentage of ACTUAL killers and maimers caught was very low, makes you wonder about this effective policing, again worth discussion.


  At this stage and think about it many victims' families became perpetrators under the search for Justice. To many it is possible to be a victim and a perpetrator, Justice then became retribution, and for many this may have appeared right again up for discussion. For most of us had Justice been there for all, conflict in Ireland would have been avoidable, did Nationalists have Justice North or South, indeed not. Did Unionists have Justice North or South, indeed not, and it has to be understood that we were not only misruled but mislead into thinking we ever had. Our Fathers and Grandfathers fought two world wars for democracy, came home to no homes, no jobs, no votes, used abused and threw to one side. Some things don't change and will not if these don't change and will not if these perceptions are not challenged or accepted by all. There are graves across the UK filled with people who were tired, convicted and executed, Soldiers God knows how many executed for cowardice, frightened wee boys, abused women, people that observed the democratic right to speak or do, after execution by State or anyone else Truth was in short supply all around, can we raise them No! What is Justice?


  Memories are part of us, they often decide the roads we walk, some of them are pleasant and cause us complete mind break, and again we are being lead through the nose to have a free for all with our memories. In a natural death through illness memories of the actual death moment fade and usually in a few years we smile again and hold on to a person who once smiled with us, yes we go through our missing, our depression etc and forget the departing moment.

  However in the event of any loved ones life taken by another human being, it differs whether for Political or other reasons it is different, most of us are not given the opportunity to be there at the time of passing or any other family member. We hear in Court usually the end of a life story and that in itself differs the memory we focus forever on the event in memory, we remember words smothered, bled, tortured, cold, ditch. Field, wood, and therefore in memory recall each asks the same question. Did they say? Did they know? How long? Who was there? Did anyone pray? And so you get the picture we tend till the day we die not only to have our lovely memories, but the event memory, if we know the perpetrator they will be in the memory if we don't we make it up, and this face is always evil, judging by inquest perhaps satanic and that is where the memory of the person and event combine which it has done for.

  Are we actually seeking Truth from all and who is going to tell it? We have seen Official Secrets, oaths of groupings etc. At the Bloody Sunday investigation, we have or not seen faces at times, there is always a question unanswered, we are not taking issue with Martin McGuiness on this one, the same oath is taken by all Para-militaries as is only in part broken by paid informers. The Stevens Enquiry (Halted again by secret armies within armies, the ongoing Corry inquires, no doubt heading into the same difficulties, victims silenced within their own communities and running scared 24/7. Could we honestly take the Truth if your friend/neighbour was part of collusion on either side? We have even studied the Mull of Kintyre 29 information gathers complete with vital evidence on a journey in a vehicle with bad safety record is questionable. Which never reached its short destination, just at a time when there was soundings of a local assembly, lasting peace, justice for all. All of these matters have and will be mulled over for many years by individuals and families all over Ireland and beyond.

  We do not believe however that there is a Truth worth telling, and even were there are, are we in any condition to receive it. Ask any victim they will tell you the real truth that was not a casualty of war, the absence of it in the first place was also the reason for people in our communities entering into it. So do we learn from past mistakes or go on. Being fobbed off forever. A united victim front has always been feared, there is a choice, chase and dig back to 12,000 and whilst your wasting time and energy, the underclass's will never receive their place in the sun, even in North/West Belfast as it is now, look around wake up, some folk have three cars, no debits, food a plenty, eight/nine holidays per year, they don't work, have no profession, talk a lot. Some even run around Ferries carrying loose change of £70,000. All this and we still pursue Truth, tell us where to seek this Truth and we will prophesy my own demise, and not by the man with the small change, but the man that supplied it.

   Truth, Justice, Remembering and Forgiveness, Shankill Stress and Trauma Group have for over a year been exploring these issues. We from the knowledge that our district in general, has not only be victimised but created victims, and so from the beginning we were honest and up front before most groups and individuals. We acknowledge no hierarchy of victims, as a community we saw the first policeman shot dead, the first community to have been two people shot by the army, ordinary vigilantes becoming paramilitaries and two bombs in three months within a hundred yards. The first babies' deaths, 45 in total dead by bombs between Peter's Hill and Highfield, the first illegal radio station and a general expansion of community work by people for people, all voluntary. The source of redevelopment and the breakdown of a community infrastructure and with the death list going on to 2002. The demise of a great shopping centre over 30 years, the two biggest social gathering places in decline Pubs and Churches, the increase of alcohol and substance abuse, prescribed and illegal coming prominent, child abuse, single parents, the break up of a unionist voice so many UPs. The biggest employers must be in the community and Leisure Services and accountability for that now about to be so well scrutinised that small groups community led, may loose out. We appear to know those are not "Group" orientated. Then comes isolation of the vulnerable though thankfully we have unsung champions who still take time to invite the weak and vulnerable for a cuppa. In our field we get four or five shiny books each week supposedly about our community, but it's a collection of words followed by inaction. Given what has been, what is, and what we hope for we explored four issues with 200 people who are victims, some bereaved, some carrying mental and physical scars. We would never claim to speak for every victim/survivor, but one can only hope we reflect views of those who use our services, and some who wouldn't dream of it but give strong opinions.


  The word victim has as many interpretations as survivor, and is unique to the individual and we accept every interpretation, and as a group are very inclusive, though there is a lot of honest discussion within the group.


  89% of 200 would question, as again there are as many truths as there are citizens, that reflects on the fact of all life changing events in families life, there were about the same per cent who never were charged. Seeking truth in N. Ireland is like needles in haystacks of 45 killed by bombs in The Greater Shankill. And for others in other places there were only one conviction, and many doubts of poor intelligence, were their indications? We don't believe we will ever know, and do we need to? If we need to leave ourselves open to a process which would open wounds, perhaps leave us with the only truth that the dead cannot be raised, bodies and minds may heal to a point, but you cannot erase a memory, or ever be totally whole again. We must face the fact that we have to function as best we can, as an individual, as a family and as a community. Our reckoning is, if we went on this road the cost to the Government in terms of inquiry could cost at the very least £50 million. Which in the generosity of spirit in our group fund, a memorial hospital dedicated to preserve life and dignity.


  There is no cause or justification that would be a satisfactory reason for any loss of life. Myths and legends stems from a history created not by anyone in working class areas in that way we cannot allow the past, which has impacted on our present, to exist in our future. Few of our group have lived through partition let alone prior, and therefore we won't be blamed or accept blame for it or a portion of blame for a history unknown to us. What we do know is this walk we were forced to take could never be justified. Neither do we wish it on any family we never want to see any more little white coffins leave any home in our name.


  Again is an individual and unique issue for bereaved and suffering. We know we don't want gardens. We have a local remembrance in the Heart of our community and multiple graveyards. A written or taped recording of an event which caused physical or mental pain, and a centre where exploration of variety of feelings can be expressed openly and honestly and cannot be divulged without consent. We remember the event how can we forget. But when stories are told the dead are valued for the family contribution the character the joker the wee imp the one who was the party animal. Favourite songs pleasure and privilege. They were ours, warts and all. This is a book to be written soon and individuals can and will contribute feelings about events, and our journeys will be written. But often will take the form of simple answers for children of a parent. Who they know little about or a husband or wife who wants to remember the things that made them love that person. It will be a community story of the individual. Those who were hurt in other ways, secondary victims will have a voice also and nothing will be published without full consent. It will be funny, sad, reflective and hopefully a lesson for the future. Our people are so aware that life and how we each live is so precious.


  We would protest we don't have to forgive to move on and if we forgive one, we blame another and the blame game has no end. Suffice to say not one of our group gives, (whoever the perpetrator if known) more than a passing thought. Most think they do not deserve that time. There are many issues on who was the perpetrator if known, did the punishment fit the deed, and can we indeed forgive those who stood by and let it all happen, played no part in our healing process and now inundate us with questionnaires and research. Whilst receiving a good living from this effort, we think not. Actively, after years seeking us out not to help but exploit us again. They also played a part by not understanding our pain and still don't.

  Come autumn there will be much work to be done, by the individual. By no means can we explore these issues while new victims are being created and expansion of all issues will be required. Be very aware of those who rejoice at tears on television, and fears that can be exploited. We must always remember the real experts in all these matters are those who have walked the hard road. Sometimes people can be helped through the worst periods by counselling, befriending, but for many it takes years before they realise what is reality. And for others they will use their own coping strategies.

  In a meeting only last week most present felt:

    1.  We will never be afforded the truth?

    2.  Justice would be that nothing had destroyed any family apart from bread and butter, issues and natural deaths?

    3.  Remembrance of a way of life or life itself would be a non-inflicted process.

    4.  Forgiveness is a quiet moving on with a new beginning for our young people and every individual journey.

  The Jury is still out on all accounts and progressive update given.

  Leaving one comment by one individual:

  If 90% of all communities are peace loving and 10% involved in violence.

  Why is the tail wagging the dog?

  Where are the 90% of voices hiding?


  Someone has said, "Its too bad life can't be lived in reverse." If that was the case, we could use some of our mature knowledge to avoid making the mistakes that we ultimately regret later. But, that's not the way life is lived. We have to make the mistakes to gain the knowledge. And we all have made our share of mistakes.

  For the most part, the past holds many good memories. We remember the good times. We can certainly thank God for the good memories. Unfortunately, the past also has a dark side. The past can be a prison that put us in bondage. Along with the good memories, there also comes memories of our own failures and the hurt caused to us by the failure of others. Memories that seem to continually haunt us. Many people live today plagued by their past. (In the most extreme cases, they sit in mental and rehabilitation centres constantly reliving the tragic events of yesterday.) They have become victims. Ravaged by their past and living in a continual state of regret; they have become trapped by their past. Some people relive the past and recount it in great detail in their mind. All the negative emotions that they felt then, they feel again. Replaying regret steals our joy as we batter ourselves emotionally for events that are forever gone. Some people simply surrender to the past. They decide that they will never rise above the past and resign themselves to be what the past has made them.

  Others defy the past and refuse to be dominated by it. They recognise that while the past is unchangeable, they can do something to change how they deal with the memories of the past. They face their fears, take an honest look back at the things that haunt and hurt them and they realise that nine times out of 10 they were not even remotely responsible for the events that they were caught up in or the circumstances they were born into.

  We have to find a way to release ourselves from the bondage of the past and to move forward in a positive direction to a new way of life. We must recognise the past for what it is—the past. It is over, done, gone, finished, ended, passed. We can't change one thing that happened back then but we can change how we go about dealing with the past. Replace pessimism of the past with optimism for the future.

  We must always remember that today we have that most precious gift of choice, something that years ago we may not even have realised was our birthright. We lived our lives doing and saying what we thought others wanted us to do and say. Now we know we no longer have to do that and because we know better we can do better. In the past we did the best we could with the tools we had and even at our worst we was trying to do our best.

  However, sometimes we have to accept that there is a certain pay off for us living in our past. That pay of is self-pity. Our self-pity allows us to stay stuck and saves us having to face the fear of failure that might come with moving forward by ourselves on our own terms. But we have to come to see there is no such thing as failure as long as we are willing to try. Things may not turn out as we would have liked them to but that's not failure—that's just life.

  We come to realise that we now hold the power over how our lives develop emotionally. For today at least, we do not intend to hand that power back to those past memories. We must no longer condemn ourselves by carrying unrealistic guilt. We have to make a conscious decision that nothing or no one will deter us from moving forward as best we can. We have the choice to let go of the ghosts of the past or to choose to live in the bondage of our own and other people's past mistakes, failures and shortcomings.

  So much of our thinking about the past is tied up with feelings of guilt We have probably said to ourselves many times over, "If only I had done this...", "If only I had done that. . ." "Why did I let that happen". Guilt can be one of the most difficult and distressing emotions. Unless it is dealt with carefully, guilt can also be one of the most destructive of emotions. Initially traumatised people find it difficult to realise that much of their "guilt" is imagined and unrealistic. With hindsight it is too easy to criticise what we have or have not done. When looking back on our past we must remember we acted with the information we had at the time. We must all ask ourselves honestly:

  How much of my guilt is imagined?

  Look at myself with the knowledge I had at the time.

  Have I allowed any blame from others to be laid on me?

  Am I whipping myself with guilt to punish myself?


  We cannot be responsible for another person's actions or the circumstances we were born into. We cannot change the past but we can change the future—we can either enjoy it or endure it. The choice is ours.

  I encourage you to choose life and then to start living it the way you have decided you want to live it. Be kind and gentle with yourself on the way and leave the past where it belongs. In the words of the Serenity prayer.

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

    Courage to change the things I can.

    And the wisdom to know the difference.

  Imposing personal perspective and beliefs on others raises doubt not clarity.

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