Call for research into scale of suicides caused by Troubles

SEFF Director of Services Kenny Donaldson has called for a study into the scale of Troubles related suicide. 'Picture Colm O'Reilly Press Eye.
SEFF Director of Services Kenny Donaldson has called for a study into the scale of Troubles related suicide. 'Picture Colm O'Reilly Press Eye.

Calls have been made for definitive research into the true rate of suicides which are linked to the Troubles.

The demands have been made after former part-time UDR soldier Ernie Wilson, 82, told this week how an IRA bomb attack on the school bus he drove in 1988 resulted in his son, James, taking his own life. James wrongly blamed himself for not spotting the bomb, as he helped his father check the vehicle each morning.

Mr Wilson says he has never recovered from losing his son. “You never forget it, it’s always there,” he told the BBC.

He now believes that Troubles related suicides should also be formally compiled. Around 3,600 people lost their lives in the Troubles, but death by suicide is not generally included in the figure.

Kenny Donaldson, Director of Services with the victims group South East Fermanagh Foundation, affirmed Mr Wilson’s request.

“We call for definitive research which would examine the true death toll of The Troubles,” he said. “In one family, the Niedermayers, there were three immediate suicides within the family connected with the murder of Thomas Niedermayer by the IRA. We are adamant that these individuals will not be forgotten and that those who inflicted the violence which brought about the associated chain reaction are held accountable for what they have done.”

Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, Siobhan O’Neill, said that compared to other areas of the British Isles, suicide rates in NI during the Troubles were quite similar. But now the NI rate is double that in England, she added.

“Mental health rates are 25% worse in NI what they are in the rest of the UK, but while England spends 11% of its health budget on mental health, NI spends only 5-6%,” she said. Her research found that NI has higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than 30 other countries, including South Africa and Lebanon.

Former NI Conservatives co-chair Trevor Ringland says 70-80 RUC officers took their own lives and believes the total Troubles suicide figure could be 3000 people.

“We need to realise how significant the impact of allowing a conflict to arise is, and why it is so important to make sure it does not happen again,” he said.

The Commission for Victims produced research on the matter in 2015. “It has been widely acknowledged that Troubles-related activity has led to a host of mental health disorders, substance misuse, isolation and suicide,” it said. However regardless of how people died, it is important to recognise the “indescribable pain” families suffer and to support them, it added.

Jonathan Ganesh, survivor of the 1996 IRA bomb attack at Canary Wharf, says Troubles survivors are often haunted by persistent flashback of traumatic events.

As president of the Docklands Victims Association, he says two members have taken their lives and five others have tried to.

“Often I wake up at night and still think I am buried in the rubble after the bomb in 1996,” he said.