Speech by Eileen Bell MLA at Alliance Party Conference, March 13:
Since the Good Friday Agreement, our society has tried in many ways, and on many levels, to redress the many wrongs that have been done over the years of conflict.
There have been valiant attempts at ground level to address the problems of sectarianism, and to encourage projects which would promote good relations.
There is, however, still one area which cries out for acknowledgement and support, that is the area of people who have been affected and/or traumatised by the conflict.
Since 1994, there have been attempts to support and to enable, even compensate, but it is clear, speaking to some who have directly suffered and to those who work with them, that there is still much work to be done, and the two governments must provide leadership in the work with the many thousands who need support in a wide variety of ways, who need to move themselves and their families forward into the post-conflict age and find for themselves their own place in the sun.
There are those who say that, in order to improve and redevelop our society we need to draw a line in the sand. If this is true, then we must first enable victims to cross over with us and to go forward with confidence into a better future.
There are nearly as many definitions of victim as there are of ceasefire, but I will settle for the one used by the Bloomfield Report — people who have been directly affected by the conflict, namely, all those men, women and children who have suffered in so many different ways during the years 1969 to 1994 and, in fact, later.
Let us be quite clear that, even as I speak, there are daily acts of torture, intimidation, and exiling by paramilitaries of all sorts.
Most of our large housing estates exist from day to day in a culture of fear, nay, terror.
So this resolution is simply facing up to an ongoing problem which needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
All research and articles written, including the Bloomfield Report, has highlighted the need for opportunities for them to tell their stories, to relate their experiences, so that full acknowledgement can be made.
Other practical needs are education, training and, to an extent, compensation, where necessary. We must remember that during the Troubles there was little or no support of any kind from government.
RUC widows, for example, with young families to rear received little or no counselling except for those who chose to come to myself and colleagues in organisations such as Women Together for Peace and the Peace People.
We may have many organisations NOW for victims, trauma centres, Victims Liaison Unit and the OFM/DFM units but there are still widespread feelings of being ignored or not being helped appropriately.
There are many categories of victimhood, as there are many victims who never contacted anyone for help or support, and one of the main reasons is that they automatically shy away from formal set-ups.
One can hear this every day in informal drop-in centres of groups such as the Shankill Stress and Trauma Centre, which was set up in the aftermath of the Shankill bomb. We must listen to these people and set up some form of task force, primarily victim-led with a clearly structured Code of Practice drawn up, once again, by those who have been in the thick of it.
A lot of work, Yes, and a lot of money, but the challenge must be met head on, to gain a more positive response throughout society to constructively help our fellow citizens who have suffered.
Existing groups like Wave, Shankill Stress and Trauma Centre etc. can provide guidance re direct action, and a public invitation should be issued to individuals, who have fought shy of the very counselling they need, to come in from the cold and benefit from the service they should have had long ago.
One-to-one counselling has proved so very worthwhile to all concerned, including those most shy about coming forward. This whole area of training and counselling must be sustained, and there must be absolute confidence that adequate funding will be there to sustain it well into the future, so that someone benefiting from one-to-one counselling doesn’t suddenly find that it ceases when he/she are most in need of this most sensitive aid.
Time-limiting these groups is totally unacceptable and could greatly set back those in need.
This service cannot be measured. There are many children and young people of the bad times who are now, for the first time, showing the effects of disruption, and terror, suffered at the earlier age. The effects of losing parents or siblings, late night awakening, being caught in violent situations, and so many other experiences, have often been bottled up in self-defence and are now causing disruption and distress in a wide range of ways. How can one guess the length of counselling and support needed by such as them?
The resolution before you may be regarded as a response to recent calls to debate if the establishment of some form of TRC is an appropriate way of dealing with the past.
The resolution is lent urgency however by the concerns of victims/survivors and facts clearly show that the so-called informal justice system remains part of everyday reality in some communities. For instance, did you know that currently six people per week have to flee, the victims of exiling.
Nearly every group/organisation that I have spoken to has grave concerns and reservations about TRCs. It is asked, quite reasonably I would suggest, ‘who will actually be truthful?’ What truth is absolute, beyond doubt, beyond question? What is the Bloody Sunday Inquiry going to prove to anybody, who will settle for what it says? — very few, I suggest.
It is estimated that 75% of murders during the troubles were carried out locally and most perpetrators are known to the relatives of the deceased, so what do we need to learn? Are we simply seeking to give the murderers a clean sheet?
The one absolute truth is that too many people suffered and are suffering, too many people died and are still dying. We must seek to deal with that, rather than setting up useless tribunals, a bonanza for the legal profession and a third-rate publicity stunt for governments.
One counsellor I know says that the only outcome of a TRC would be to set off a further spiral of retribution.
What we must concentrate on is healing; a realistic healing process giving succour to all who have been affected.
Political parties must play their part by lobbying for funding to achieve this, support must be given to all victims no matter whence they come; we must do away with the current hierarchy of victims.
It is unfortunately true that the very subject of victims is one that everybody genuinely regrets, and then dismisses from their mind as quickly as possible, for it is a subject that makes us all feel uncomfortable, uneasy. That may be an understandable reaction but it not an acceptable one.
Victims must be kept in the forefront of the political mind until the problem is properly and adequately addressed.
Hopefully, we in Alliance, the party of Reconciliation, can pledge here today to be involved in helping the healing process for all.
I beg to propose the resolution.