Saturday, 24 January 2009

Paying for grief

There are still so many unhealed wounds from the trauma and grief of the Troubles that any new proposals for dealing with the victims attract instant controversy.

A report commissioned by the British government suggests a £12,000 payment to each family of the 3,700 people killed, regardless of personal circumstances and regardless of whether the person who died was a terrorist or an innocent victim.

Already there's a heated debate over the proposals, with Unionist politicians angrily demanding that the families of terrorists shouldn't get any payment.

The authors of the report, Lord Robin Eames and Denis Bradley*, point out that whether the dead were terrorists or not, those left behind were equally traumatised and bereft. That's absolutely true, and the Unionists are deliberately missing the point for their own ends.

My own objection is a different one, and that is how any sum of money could possibly compensate for personal grief and loss. In fact it's almost an insult to say a wad of cash is an appropriate response.

Surely the more sensible approach is to offer each family the particular help they need, be it counselling, financial assistance, childcare or whatever. And this sort of help should be available in any case from the public services, so there shouldn't be any need for extra initiatives.

I also have to ask whether it makes sense to give £40 million of public funds to people who may not need it or want it, when the many thousands of people knocked for six by the economic slump need help much more urgently to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families.

Of course we need to recognise the dreadful suffering caused by the Troubles, but this proposal is an odd way of doing it.

* Lord Eames is a former Church of Ireland primate. Denis Bradley is a former vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland policing board.

Photo: the aftermath of the Omagh bombing in 1998


  1. Nick:
    I totally agree with you on this financial compensation solution used as a sop to emotional trauma. I've particularly observed the damage it has done to the aboriginals here. Sometimes costing them their lives due to unlimited access to addictive substances.
    And many of the victims (survivors) of the Troubles have their own substance abuse problems. The compensation can only accelerate this.
    Counselling and healing are the answers.
    Money has never solved anything.

  2. www - You mean payments are simply frittered away on addictions and pointless spending rather than whatever is needed to rebuild their lives? That's another argument for providing relevant public services rather than a handout.

  3. Nick it's like the huge compensation claims that families receive here for say, victims of crime . . .I never understood a parent who 'sued' someone for money after a family member had died. Having lost a family member to what could only be called 'traumatic' circumstances, through no fault of her own, the last thing we would have thought of (indeed we didn't) was to seek compensation for her death . .it won't bring her back and her life was priceless. Let bygones be bygones. Provide counselling and support by all means but money fuels greed and certainly that amount isn't enough to 'comensate' for the death of a family member. I find it rather obscene frankly.

    WWW has a point, if we simply threw money at our indigenous population, it would be petrol sniffed and drunk away . . .they need help, not hand-outs.

  4. Baino - I so agree about suing. Of course deaths are often the result of somebody's carelessness or incompetence but suing them for it isn't going to bring the person back or wash away the grief. And if you're suing a hospital, ironically it only means they end up paying out huge sums of money that could have been put into improved treatment.

  5. While it's a positive thing that politicians want to help those affected by the Troubles, a blanket payment across the board misses the point by several miles.

    As you said, different people have different needs, none of which can be addressed in a one-size-fits-all "solution." There should also be a distinction, I think, between those who were affected because their near and dear chose to be violent terrorists and those who were victimized by them.

    The plan is unrealistic and will end up alienating people further from the government and from each other.

  6. Heart - Absolutely, a one-size-fits-all solution takes no account of personal circumstances.

    Interesting that you would also distinguish between families on the basis of whether the person who died was a terrorist or not. That's still the really contentious issue which is likely to sink the idea.

  7. I've always found the idea of financial compensation for this kind of thing strange - it's like buying silence

  8. Quicky - It is a bit like that. Except that being Northern Ireland, nobody shuts up for longer than five minutes and grievances fester for decades.

  9. As usual I could not agree with you more. I spent that entire weekend trying to make those very same points to the people who constantly argued with me about this (many of whom did not believe I was entitled to an opinion because I am a "blow-in"). I am pleased that you have voiced it so well here.

  10. FG - Yes, many people would say I'm not entitled to write about it because I'm a blow-in. Even if I had been a blow-in for 50 years, they'd say the same. But anyone's entitled to have an opinion about grief and what's the best way of dealing with it.