Belfast Telegraph

Those who have suffered still need a helping hand

Supporting victims of the Troubles is a vital part of the healing process, says Jacqueline Irwin

As we have seen in the last few days, with the 25th anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing, commemorating those who died, or were injured, whether in foreign war or civil conflict, is an important part of the acknowledgement of the sacrifices of previous generations.

Those who died in our conflict are perhaps, most fresh in our memory and we carry with us the suffering of the recent past as a real challenge in the present.

Indeed, the murder of David Black is horrifying evidence that there are still people in our community who believe that the creation of new victims is a justifiable means to achieve a political objective.

So many people have been hurt, not only through physical injury, but by stress, trauma and loss of loved-ones.

Often it is extremely difficult for victims and survivors to talk of their experiences and they struggle to deal with what has happened to them and make the transition to the mainstream of community life.

Supporting victims is an essential part of the healing process for individuals. It is also important to the wider community.

That support can take many forms. Many small voluntary groups, often self-help groups of individuals who are themselves victims, provide befriending opportunities and drop-in support, which is vital in reaching the elderly, those with mobility problems and those uncomfortable or unable to seek and receive services in more public venues.

For more than 10 years, the Community Relations Council (CRC) has been able to provide financial and development support for this work in the form of grant schemes through funds provided by OFMDFM.

This has been a volatile environment in which to work, with many people feeling hurt, pain, mistrust, fear, suspicion and anger that victims have not received true acknowledgement, or recognition for the suffering they have had to carry.

The challenge has been to help build trusting relationships, to reduce the isolation felt by victims and survivors and to work towards their integration into the everyday life and fabric of society.

The people involved in many of the self-help groups came together through unique circumstances, defined by their experience of trauma and the conflict, with the aim of helping others in similar situations.

The CRC's work has therefore not just been about grant assistance, but also about supporting the groups to develop their own capacity to respond to the needs of victims and survivors.

Another key element of the CRC's support has been the encouragement of genuine dialogue and the sharing of good practice. To do this we have, in relationship with the support groups, established a sense of safety, mutual respect and confidentiality.

As a result, it has been possible for experiences to be shared in a way that fostered mutual understanding of different perspectives.

While for many, reconciliation may be a step too far, the healing of broken relationships is an essential part of dealing with the past.

Providing opportunities to those who have suffered most in the conflict to talk about their experiences, to be heard and to listen to the stories of others is important and a fundamental part of moving forward, both as individuals and as a community.

The victim support programme which was run by the CRC has now been transferred to be part of the new Victim Support Service established by OFMDFM.

We wish the new service well as it continues with this vital work and we pay tribute to the work of those that have supported victims and survivors over many years.

CRC will continue to support the important work of acknowledging and addressing the legacy of the past through our cohesion, reconciliation, cultural diversity and good relations programmes.

We will also continue to support victims and survivors of the conflict with the assistance of the European Peace Programme.

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