Belfast Telegraph

'I lived my life trying not to scare my own children with my horrific injuries'

Tomorrow marks the end of the Government's public consultation into addressing the legacy of the Troubles. Each day this week the Belfast Telegraph is publishing thought-provoking interviews highlighting how victims have been affected by violence

Noel Downey speaking at a European Day for Victims of Terrorism event at Stormont
Noel Downey speaking at a European Day for Victims of Terrorism event at Stormont
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

"I got out of the car and attempted to walk but I kept falling down... blood was seeping out of me... after some time I realised why I had kept falling; my left leg was gone."

Remembering what happened 28 years ago, around 5pm on June 10, 1990, when he was a member of the UDR, Noel Downey is recalling the moment that changed his life forever.

That's when his left leg was blown off by an under-car booby-trap that exploded outside the Weavers Pub in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, almost killing him.

He was 27 years old at the time.

"I remember a white flash, then being blind and deaf for what seemed like a couple of minutes," Mr Downey recalled.

"I was temporarily knocked out.

"I reached over in the blindness and opened the door; I kept saying to myself: 'I'm all right, I'm all right'.

"I later realised that my leg had been blown off and had struck me under my jaw, knocking out four front teeth; two of my teeth were actually lodged in my leg, which was blown into the back of my car.

"I remember feeling really annoyed that a good watch that I recently acquired had been destroyed, along with my new trainers - that was the least of my problems, but it's amazing how the mind thinks."

Mr Downey (55), from Maguiresbridge, said his body ceased to be his own after that day, with his injuries requiring nine serious operations over time, and he was left needing a prosthetic limb.

He said that although he and his wife Helen (52), who is also his carer, were blessed with daughter Kenzey (now 21) and son Lewis (18), it was emotionally tough being a father during their childhood.

"I lived my life trying not to scare my own children with my horrific injuries; my false leg frightened them, so I tried to hide it," he explained.

"And when they were small I couldn't lift them or hold them up like other dads, that was a no-go for me."

Describing his "constant, horrendous pain", the nightmares, flashbacks, bouts of depression, along with feelings of anger and hopelessness, Mr Downey said he owed a debt of gratitude to his wife for standing by him.

"Helen and I have had hard times, but we've made it through, although we still have our ups and downs," he admitted.

But it's not just his unrelenting pain that serves as a constant reminder.

"Four years ago I had surgery on my bad arm," the dad-of-two revealed.

"They found a shard from the booby-trapped car, still covered in metallic blue paint. I keep it in a hospital jar."

The Northern Ireland Office has asked for views on how a Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) - comprising a caseload of about 1,700 Troubles-related deaths and aiming to complete its work in five years - would operate.

But Mr Downey will be excluded from the process because it doesn't deal with the seriously injured.

He said: "One individual was convicted for what happened to me, but was released after four years under the Good Friday Agreement. I'm still angry about that."

He called for a special pension to give his family some financial security in the future.

And he urged for a distinction to be made between innocent victims and perpetrators of violence.

He said: "The only way I can see this proceeding is if the politicians can somehow design an appeals process which allows for innocents like me to be given our pension, with perpetrators who have sustained injury needing to express contrition for the injuries they sustained whilst involved in a terrorist and criminal act."

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said that the NIO's approach was seriously lacking and he called for immediate action to be taken to help survivors.

"There is nothing within the NIO legacy proposals to address the practical, financial, emotional, justice, truth, or accountability needs of the seriously injured," he said.

"The opt-out that such issues are devolved matters does not hold water given that there is limited prospect of a return to a devolved administration, complete with Executive, anytime soon.

"Seriously injured victims and survivors must be provided for, and they must be provided for now."

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