Belfast Telegraph

Call for Troubles death toll to also include suicides backed by Foster

Ernie Wilson
Ernie Wilson
The wreckage of his school bus blown up by an IRA bomb in Lisnaskea in 1988
Ernie Wilson with his son James who took his own life a year after the bombing

By Mark Edwards and David Young

DUP leader Arlene Foster has backed her former school bus driver's campaign for suicides linked to Northern Ireland's violent past to be included in official records of those killed during the Troubles.

Ernie Wilson, a former part-time UDR soldier, was driving a bus in Lisnaskea in 1988 when an IRA bomb exploded. Arlene Foster was one of the schoolchildren on board the bus.

Although no one was killed in the explosion, a year after the bombing Mr Wilson's 27-year-old son James died by suicide.

Mr Wilson believes that his son blamed himself for what happened to the bus, as he helped check it every morning before his father left for work.

Mr Wilson said there is no way his son could have spotted the device, which had been concealed by IRA terrorists aboard the bus.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Wilson said he had "no doubt" his son took his own life because of the Troubles and that his death should be recognised on the official death toll.

He said that similar deaths by suicide linked to the conflict in Northern Ireland should also be recorded, but only with the agreement of each family.

"That's if their parents, or whoever is left, allows it or wants it. I'm not talking for anyone else, only myself. You might have people there who wouldn't want that, but in my opinion, it should be."

Mrs Foster, an MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, told the Belfast Telegraph she would be backing Mr Wilson's campaign.

"The untold impacts of the Troubles can not be underestimated," she said.

"There are families and service personnel who today still live with the mental and physical scars at the hands of terrorism.

"For many their story is personal and painful.

"I know Ernie personally and the impacts of that day in June 1988.

"I fully support Ernie in his call and having James' name recorded and included.

"While it is right that many died indirectly as a result of the Troubles, it is a matter for families whether they, too, would want their loved one's death to be recorded in this way.

"We should continue to ensure support services are in place for people who are still dealing with the aftermath of Northern Ireland's darkest days."

Last night, Mr Wilson welcomed the First Minister's support.

"I'm very emotional about the whole thing," he said.

"My wife died there about a year ago, so I'm kind of on my own now, and I get a bit emotional at times.

"I'm glad Arlene Foster has come out and supported me.

"I'd like something done, I really would."

Mr Wilson, who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph last year on the 30th anniversary of the bombing, said he stills finds it hard to believe that a teenage Arlene Foster and 16 other children weren't killed in the IRA bomb attack that ripped apart the school bus he was driving in Fermanagh.

"I didn't think a mouse could have got out alive from the wreckage. It was nothing short of a miracle that no one died," he said.

Mrs Foster was a lower sixth pupil at the Collegiate Grammar School in Enniskillen when the attack happened.

A youthful Mrs Foster, whose father Johnny was injured in an IRA shooting in 1979, gave television interviews immediately after the bus blast and she has often repeated that the explosion could have resulted in the slaughter of schoolchildren.

The number of people who lost their lives in the Northern Ireland conflict is currently estimated to be around 3,600.

It is understood only a very small number of people who died by suicide are included in this number.

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