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Victims and Survivors

Story of PEACE Key Themes Victims & Survivors

Key Themes

Victims and Survivors


The PEACE Programmes have played a central role in the provision of services and support to victims and survivors of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland. This work is rooted in the recognition by the authors of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement[1] that: ‘The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families’.

From 1966 to 2006, 3,720 people were killed in Northern Ireland and Ireland and 47,541 people were injured as a direct result of the conflict.[2] These figures include both non-state actors (paramilitaries) and state actors (security forces), and civilians. The relatives and survivors of these deaths and injuries make up a considerable portion of the population of the region. A report commissioned by the Commission for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland (CVSNI)[3] concluded that: Overall, an estimated 39% of the adult population (which equates to 524,000 individuals) have experienced at least one conflict-related traumatic event during their lifetime, revealing the prominence of the conflict in the lives of the current adult population.

Reaching agreement on the use of the term Victim and Survivor has not been without its difficulties in the development of support initiatives in this sensitive area. In 2006, an agreed definition of the terms was reached and incorporated into legislation governing the provision of services in this area in Northern Ireland:[4] (a), someone who is or has been physically or psychologically injured as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related incident; (b) someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for an individual mentioned in paragraph (a); (c) or someone who has been bereaved as a result of or in consequence of a conflict-related event. This definition has guided the work of the PEACE Programmes in this area.

Acknowledgement for Victims and Survivors

In Northern Ireland, two reports in 1998 acknowledged the impact of the conflict on victims and survivors. The Report of the Social Services Inspectorate Living with the Trauma of the Troubles[5 was the first Government report to recognise the circumstances of those affected by the conflict. The recommendations contained in this report were accepted and appended to the “We Will Remember Them” report from the first Victims Commissioner in Northern Ireland, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield[6]. Both of these reports reviewed the range of services provided by self-help groups of victims and survivors on the one hand, and services provided by the statutory sector on the other, and the difficulties and challenges that existed in the provision of services. The work of the PEACE Programmes focused on bridging the gap in provision between victim-centred community-based service providers and statutory mainstream services.

In Ireland, the importance of providing services that were supportive of and sensitive to the needs of victims was recognised in a report produced by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR)[7] in 1999. The recommendations in the report cover the key issues of emotional trauma and compensation for families, truth, justice and medical issues. The economic effects of the Troubles are also dealt with in the document. The principal emphasis of the ICLVR however was the location of remains of victims of the troubles. The responsibility for the delivery of direct support services in the border counties was delegated to the work of the PEACE Programmes.

One of the challenges facing the PEACE Programmes in the development of services aimed at addressing the needs of victims and survivors both in Northern Ireland and in the border counties of Ireland, was the level of distrust that existed between those who had suffered and the service provision agencies. For that reason, it was important to have available the services of organisations that enjoyed the trust of all sides. Two Implementation Bodies in particular were key in the provision of services during the earlier years of the PEACE Programmes: in Northern Ireland, the Community Relations Council (CRC)[8] and in the border counties of Ireland, POBAL[9]. Both of these organisations provided invaluable service for those who had suffered most throughout the conflict and their relatives and families. They operated as a single Consortium on a cross border basis when required to do so and they prepared the ground for the eventual creation in Northern Ireland of the Commission for Victims and Survivors (CVSNI)[10] in May 2008.[11]


Addressing the Legacy of the Past

There has been much debate in Northern Ireland and Ireland about the desirability of having a Truth Commission as a way of dealing with the legacy of the past. In 2006, the Community Relations Council (CRC) published research on the question[12]. In the absence of widespread support for the idea, the research found that the most popular alternative ways to deal with the past other than a truth recovery process was through support for victims.

In 1999[13], Dr Alex Boraine, Deputy Chair of the South African Truth and Reconcilation Commission (TRC), visited Northern Ireland at the invitation of Victim Support Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO). He consulted with 61 groups and individuals to discuss the lessons and experience of the TRC, and to consider any bearing they might have on the conflict in Northern Ireland. His visit resulted in a report ‘All Truth is Bitter’[14], recommending that wide-ranging discussion should explore and debate ways of examining the past and remembering so as to build a better future.

The Healing Through Remembering Project was established in 2001 based on the recommendations contained in the Boraine report. This organisation undertook broad public consultation around the primary question: How should people remember the events connected with the conflict in and about Northern Ireland and in so doing, individually and collectively contribute to the healing of the wounds of society?

Healing Through Remembering is a diverse member-led organisation working on how to deal with the legacy of the past as it relates to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. It is a voluntary initiative whose purpose is to provide as much opportunity and learning as possible in order to inform broader debate about dealing with the legacy of the conflict. Its work has been instrumental in shaping the debate about dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.[15] The PEACE Programmes have supported the work of Healing Through Remembering, both directly and working with many of their member organisations.

In 2007, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) commissioned the Report of the Consultative Group on the Past[16] (otherwise known as the Eames-Bradley report). The report was based on widespread consultation in Northern Ireland on how to acknowledge the past and included a wide range of recommendations, including the provision of compensation for victims and their families. The report raised again the question of definition of a victim and the appropriateness of measures taken to provide compensation.

Acknowledging and dealing with the past was one of the key themes raised by research by Hamber and Kelly in 2004[17] which was to have a significant impact on the work of the PEACE Programmes. The working definition of reconciliation provided in their report became a cornerstone of the work of the PEACE II Extension, PEACE III and PEACE IV. In 2005, Hamber suggested that[18] any process of dealing with the past should not only focus on victims alone because the whole society generally has a responsibility to address the legacy of the past … finding ways to contribute to effectively addressing the consequences of conflict and meeting the needs of victims. More detailed analysis and consideration of the impact of this research on the PEACE Programmes is provided under the theme Reconciliation on this site[19].


PEACE Programme Contribution

Victims and Survivors were supported in all four PEACE Programmes through a range of groups representing the interests of victims, and funded under the following PEACE Programme themes/measures:

  • PEACE I: Social Inclusion.
  • PEACE II: Social Integration Inclusion and Reconciliation.
  • PEACE III: Acknowledging and Dealing with the Past and Reconciling Communities.
  • PEACE IV: Shared Spaces and Services.

Funding for PEACE I (1995-1999) amounted to £687 million[20]. Of this, funding for victims and survivors amounted to between 1-2%. While this was a relatively small part of the Programme, the activities funded were successful in raising the profile and awareness of victims’ needs[21].

PEACE I helped to pump-prime the development of the victims’ sector with interventions focused on the varied needs of Victims and Survivors through the mainly self-help groups that evolved. These groups were not like other community and voluntary based groups. They evolved based on the shared experiences of individuals and their families, and the trauma they had suffered throughout the conflict. The groups were formed with the express the aim of supporting each other and reaching out to those who had suffered. Although today there are more than 50 groups and organisations working with Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland, in the early days of the PEACE Programme there was only a small number of victims’ groups in existence. Many of the newly formed groups, primarily single identity based groups, were lacking in capacity and skills during the very early stages of development. During PEACE I, the Community Relations Council (CRC) provided financial and development support in the form of grant schemes to groups working with victims and survivors, through funds provided by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). At the time this was a highly volatile environment in which to work, with many individuals expressing distress, mistrust, suspicion and anger that victims had not received true acknowledgement or recognition for the suffering they had to bear. Support work at this time was directed towards building relationships of trust and assistance to reduce the isolation felt by victims and survivors and working towards integration into everyday life. 

Throughout PEACE I work was dedicated to supporting best working practices with Victims and Survivors - work initiated by the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust (NIVT) (administering PEACE I and PEACE II funding[22]) and CRC (administering OFMDFM funding from 1999–2013 and PEACE III victims related funding), in developing high quality standards for the delivery of services to Victims and Survivors[23]. This work was to continue, led by best practice standards set by CRC which fed into the PEACE III Programme[24]. Over time, these standards were further developed[25] by the Commission for Victims and Survivors (CVSNI).

In the absence of any formal government led structures or truth recovery processes, community and voluntary groups in the 1990’s, such as An Crann/The Tree[26] funded during PEACE I, were involved in promoting storytelling activities and supporting other local community and voluntary based groups in the recording of their own personal accounts of the conflict and dealing with the past. By 2005, during PEACE II, an Audit of Storytelling was undertaken by Gráinne Kelly (2005)[27] with more than 30 contributing organisations.

Whilst PEACE I Programme contributed to increase the integration of hard to reach and excluded groups such as victims’[28] by the end of PEACE II “work with ex-combatants and victims, once controversial, is now accepted as a norm" [29]. Funding and support for Victims and Survivors continued during PEACE II (2000-2006) was increased to £7.6million. As part of this work, 55 groups received support (including technical assistance for administration and capacity building). The focus during this phase of PEACE funding was to continue to support a range of interventions with Victims and Survivors against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland Government’s 'Reshape, Rebuild, Achieve' Strategy of 2002,[30] based on a review conducted by the Victims Unit in OFMDFM.

During the PEACE II Programme period, CRC supported groups working with victims and survivors to build programmes of work, helping to build capacity and to support those most in need. Annual conferences became a feature for groups where good practice was highlighted as well as opportunities provided for funded groups to engage in genuine dialogue around difficult aspects in dealing with the past. Key values and parameters were promoted such as mutual respect, tolerance, personal responsibility for sharing and respect for confidentiality and this enabled different perspectives and experiences to be shared, listened to and heard.

During PEACE III (2007-2013) funding escalated significantly for the victims’ sector totalling approximately £37 million[31]. The injection of PEACE III funding augmented and supported the government (OFMDFM) funding to groups working with victims (provided via CRC), whilst policy and strategy development work occurred, driven through the 10-year Victims and Survivors Strategy (2009). During this time CRC continued to promote good governance and undertook a review to assist groups in developing best practice standards in the delivery of their work. In addition CRC developed an accredited and volunteer-led Befriending Training Scheme to support carers of victims and survivors, assisting in the alleviation of social isolation.

During the PEACE III Programme, SEUPB took a leading role and emphasised the importance of dealing with the past, adopting Brandon Hamber and Gráinne Kelly’s working definition of reconciliation[32] which involved five strands, one of which was “acknowledging the hurt, losses, truths and suffering of the past”. In fact, "Acknowledging and Dealing with the Past’ was a key Theme for the PEACE III Programme and evaluators Deloitte (2010) found that although an appetite existed for work exploring legacy and memory of the conflict, this was not without its challenges[33].

The PEACE IV Programme provided a direct contribution to the provision of shared services to Victims and Survivors with an allocation of €17.6m via the Victims and Survivors Service (VSS). The VSS was established in 2013 under the aegis of CVSNI[34]. Its role was to administer Executive Office funding set aside specifically for victims and survivors and to assist all victims and survivors identified in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006[35]. The VSS combined funding support for individuals, previously allocated by the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund (NIMF) and funding for groups working with victims and survivors, previously administered by the CRC. PEACE IV funding was provided to invest in service provision, capacity development and research within the victims’ sector over the period 2017–2021.

Project Examples

Example 1: The Cost of the Troubles Study

A study funded by the PEACE I Programme entitled 'The Cost of the Troubles Study',[36] highlighted the fact that a significant number of lives were lost, considerable life changing injuries were sustained, and countless people were left suffering from trauma affecting their health and wellbeing. The Cost of the Troubles Study supported the project “Do You See What I See?” (1998)[37]. This was an exhibition and an accompanying publication of young people’s experiences of the Troubles using their own words and photographs. The exhibition was created in partnership with young people from Woodvale Youth Group, Sunningdale Youth Group, Survivors of Trauma in North Belfast, The Alexander Park Project in Belfast, The Peace and Reconciliation Group and St. Eugene’s Primary School in Derry~Londonderry and the Cost of the Troubles Study. Children and young people were interviewed or wrote about their experiences of the conflict, their views and their hopes for the future. Belfast Exposed worked with the young people in Belfast in training them to take their own photographs, which were used in both the book and exhibition. Extracts of interviews are presented in the publication, documenting young people’s experiences of growing up in the conflict.


Example 2: Diverse Past, Shared Future, Expanding the Debate

In its PEACE III funded project in 2008, ‘Diverse Past, Shared Future, Expanding the Debate’ Healing Through Remembering (HTR)[38] reached out to hard-to-reach audiences and developed a set of ‘Core Values and Principles for Dealing with the Past’[39] to be used for those engaged in work centred on these issues. In 2009, Healing Through Remembering also produced a series of ethical principles[40] for guiding storytelling work. HTR also created an exhibition[41] using one of its resources funded through the PEACE III Programme, which developed out of its work on a Living Memorial Museum.[42] More recently Healing Through Remembering sought to inform the debate around the Oral History elements of the Stormont House Agreement[43] through a Briefing Paper[44] in 2015.


Example 3: Theatre of Witness

The PEACE III funded project, Theatre of Witness,[45] used the medium of drama to deal with the legacy of the past, through the public telling of stories, encapsulating the voices of Victims and Survivors in a number of moving productions. “Their true, life stories, performed by the people themselves, are shared onstage so that audiences can collectively bear witness to issues of suffering, redemption and social justice"[46].

The Theatre of Witness Programme brought together victims of violence, combatants from both communities and members of the security forces to provide powerful messages regarding peace and reconciliation. The project succeeded in portraying the pain of conflict to wider audiences and helping educate those that were not directly affected.


Example 4: The Aftermath

Louth, a border county, was impacted greatly by the conflict and also became a refuge for many who fled countries in conflict situations. The PEACE III funded "Aftermath Project"[47] involved individuals impacted by conflict and trauma living in County Louth as well as asylum seekers and refugees who had arrived in the county from other countries of conflict to “explore the less visible signs of post conflict which reveal underlying questions connected to hidden histories, unresolved antagonisms, and personal hopes and dreams"[48]. The Aftermath Project used discussion and creative, artistic approaches to storytelling to highlight the issues and needs of participants and to offer support and advice. Filmmaker and Aftermath director Laurence McKeown and commissioned artist Anthony Haughey worked closely with the participants to produce a touring exhibition of photography, film, music, and audio, supported by a programme of curated events during 2007-2013.


Example 5: The Pat Finucane Centre

The Pat Finucane Centre’s work was an example of a positive model of truth recovery practice. Funded under the PEACE III theme ‘acknowledging and dealing with the past’, the project involved working with families bereaved as a result of conflict in Northern Ireland acting on their behalf with various statutory bodies on both sides of the border. In addition, the Centre’s ‘Recovery of Living Memory Archive (RoLMA)’ project has been supported through both the PEACE III and the PEACE IV Programme. The project has supported individuals and families to find out the truth around the loss of loved ones during the conflict and also to learn from the past by sharing stories and coming together as individuals who suffered loss.


Example 6: Epilogues

Epilogues was a PEACE II and PEACE III multimedia workshop-based education programme supported by a dedicated DVD and website to engage people in the everyday work of peace-building and responsible citizenship. This was undertaken through a workshop environment, modelling a democratic process, exploring six key themes central to an understanding of violent political conflict: Violence, Loss, Revenge, Forgiveness, Justice and Human Rights. The exploration was deepened through direct engagement with the perspectives of both victims of, and the various parties to, the violent political conflict in and about ‘Northern Ireland’. An evaluation[49] of the project is available as well as media[50].

The epilogues DVD, ‘Perspectives in Conflict’, includes the personal testimony of twenty-seven individuals who have had direct experience of the conflict. An online video containing edited contributions (recorded at an event hosted by Gaslight) and reflections from former participants of the epilogues Workshop Education Programme is also available on the epilogues website - epilogues.