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Murder-bid survivor Paul Gallagher to graduate in trauma studies, 22 years on

By Suzanne Breen

Published 20/06/2016

Paul Gallagher has gained a first-class honours degree
Paul Gallagher has gained a first-class honours degree

A man left in a wheelchair after a loyalist gun attack on his home has been awarded a first-class Honours degree from Queen's University Belfast.

Paul Gallagher was just 21 years of age when loyalist gunmen burst into a house in Lenadoon in west Belfast in January 1994. Posing as the IRA, they held him and his family hostage.

They were preparing to launch an attack on an ex-republican prisoner who lived nearby.

However, after an hour they tired of waiting for their target.

As they fled, they opened fire on the Gallaghers' living room with a submachine gun.

Paul was hit with six bullets, one of which shattered his spine, leaving him in a wheelchair. He also lost his spleen and half a lung.

He has now secured a first-class Honours degree in Psychological Trauma Studies.

Two women students on the course with him lost their husbands during the Troubles.

Paul told the Belfast Telegraph: "I was preparing to become a chef when I was shot. I had never considered university, I was too busy out enjoying myself so this is a new direction for me. It's been four long years to get the degree but it has been worth it.

"My life changed in an instant when I was shot 22 years ago and I had to start again from scratch.

"The course was very personal because, when studying the stages of trauma, I was really covering the journey I had been on myself - from feeling angry and wanting revenge, to rebuilding my life.

"When you're experiencing all these strong emotions at the time you feel like you're going mad but, looking back at it academically, it becomes clear it's an entirely natural process."

Paul hopes to use what he has learned to help other victims.

"Too often, the doctors just fill you up with tranquillisers and barbiturates and I don't think that's the best way forward," he said.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder isn't a modern phenomenon. It was mentioned as far back as the works of Homer but it's only relatively recently that we've developed better ways to deal with it."

Paul will graduate next month and hopes to begin a Masters at Queen's in the autumn.

He is chairman of the Victims' And Survivors Trust (VAST) and works for the victims' group WAVE where he is campaigning for a pension for those who have been seriously injured in the Troubles.

"I always try to be a sane voice in what can be a hectic, screaming debate," he said.

"For me, what's most important is securing resources to support victims psychologically, physically and financially."

Paul's sister identified one of the gunmen but nobody was ever arrested in connection with the attack.

"We didn't really expect anything from the old RUC," he said. "As a family we decided after the Good Friday Agreement to leave it at that.

"If there was peace, what we went through wasn't going to happen to anybody else."

Paul concluded many years ago that holding on to "hatred and bitterness" wouldn't help him. He said: "Sometimes late at night I did have those feelings but I let go off them.

"My body will never heal but I have grown stronger as a person from my trauma.

"I accepted the reality that I wouldn't walk again and that the man responsible for that, the man who pulled the trigger, would never face justice.

"I was lucky in having a strong support system of friends, family and in the community.

"They didn't see me as any different just because I was in a wheelchair so I didn't either.

"I just got on with it."

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