Belfast Telegraph

Why victims advocate Paul Gallagher no longer dreads the anniversary of shooting that left him confined to a wheelchair

Paul Gallagher is keen to inspire others
Paul Gallagher is keen to inspire others

By Christopher Leebody

Victims' campaigner Paul Gallagher (47) has described how he came to be "born again" with a new outlook on life on the 26th anniversary of a loyalist terror attack that left him in a wheelchair.

He was just 21 when UFF terrorists entered his west Belfast home on January 6, 1994.

He was shot in front of his family, with injuries that would leave him in a wheelchair.

In a tweet posted yesterday, Mr Gallagher reflected that it was "an anniversary that I used to dread - but now see as an opportunity to look back and see how I have changed for the better since 1994".

The tweet captured the attention of many on social media, with his forward-thinking and positive outlook on life being hailed as an inspiration.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Gallagher explained that it had taken him many years to readjust his way of approaching the date each year.

"I think in the first few years it would have been a day of dread in the home and no one would have spoken about it. People around me were on eggshells because it was so raw," he said.

"I do say my life changed that day in a bad way, but looking back it has been a good thing. Things have changed so much.

"I have had to be born again - not in the religious sense - but I have a completely new life."

The campaigner works with the Wave Trauma Centre in Belfast trying to secure pensions for those who have been seriously injured in the Troubles.

He explained that his mindset changed significantly when he started getting involved in courses dealing with trauma.

"About 10 years ago I started seeing life in a different way. Learning more about trauma, going back to the college, taking courses at Wave," he said.

"I wasn't going mad, these were normal reactions to abnormal situations.

"It opened my eyes that I could deal with it and make sense of what happened to me.

"I am not dead, I survived. I have an opportunity to make some sense of it. I say to myself: 'You have a second chance, you survived it - you are not just a victim'.

"It doesn't sit with me, I don't wake up this morning and say: 'Here's that day again'.

"It is a normal day, I just get on with the things I have to do."

Graduating from Queen's University with a first class degree in trauma studies in 2016, Mr Gallagher noted the big difference the concept of 'post-traumatic growth' had made on his approach to the difficult situation he faced.

"Everyone knows about post-traumatic stress disorder. I came across this concept called post-traumatic growth, when you end up not just surviving but growing and thriving from your traumatic event," he said.

"When I read about it, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

"When I speak to people about that, they have never heard of it.

"It is something people should look into, it would have made my recovery go faster at the time."

Now back at Queen's University teaching a module on trauma studies, Mr Gallagher said that young people he lectures about his experience regularly report his perspective to be "some of the best parts of the teaching".

He contrasts the experience of talking to the next generation, with the "failure of politics" that has seen mechanisms for dealing with legacy issues falling by the wayside.

However, Mr Gallagher stresses that he doesn't let that dissatisfaction get in the way.

"You just have to get up and get on with it," he said.

"You can't really hold on to vengeance or hatred.

"The people who did these things to you don't care if you hate them, so there's no point.

"I am trying to finish a PhD at the moment.

"You just try and keep focused on keeping busy.

"Keeping any sort of negatives out of your life.

"I am hopefully now an inspiration to other people. I take that very seriously.

"It is not some flippant thing. If I can be an inspiration to people, then I own it."

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