Declassified files: How the Troubles impacted everything from the environment to animal health

The violence had an enormous impact beyond the immediate deaths and injuries, a confidential NIO report said
The violence had an enormous impact beyond the immediate deaths and injuries, a confidential NIO report said
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The Troubles touched almost every facet of society, extending to everything from the spread of animal disease to the over-fishing of eels and school discipline, according to a confidential government assessment seven years after the violence began.

The detailed analysis, which focused on the less obvious impacts of violence rather than on the deaths and injuries themselves, was drawn up by Northern Ireland Office officials after a request from the secretary of state in September 1976.

Government departments were separately contacted to feed in details of how the Troubles had impacted life within their sphere of knowledge.

Although the thick file was drawn up almost 40 years ago, it is only now being declassified at the Public Record Office in Belfast. Files are meant to be declassified after 30 years – and now a 20-year rule is being phased in – but sometimes files are missed and suddenly released at a much later date after being rediscovered.

The document said that the number of jobs either created or saved by government declined from 7,000 in 1971 to 3,000 in 1975 – and many of those were as a result of expansions of businesses established before the Troubles.

It said that if the rate of new inward investment achieved in the late 1960s had continued “we might have expected, during the present decade, to have promoted some 20,000 new jobs from this source as compared with the actual result of less than 6,000 ... a direct loss of 14,000 jobs plus the potential for future expansion and some indirect employment generation”. The new jobs had generally been of a poorer quality, it said, although it a global economic downturn had played some part in the problems.

Sixteen factories had not been replaced after being destroyed, with a loss of 824 jobs, while an estimated 100 jobs were lost at any given time due to damaged factories.

The cost of electricity had risen due to the cost of guarding electricity installations and reduced demand for electricity due to the economic consequences of the Troubles.

Attacks on hotels removed about 1,000 bedrooms. The number of visitors to Northern Ireland had peaked at more than a million in 1968 but collapsed to less than half that number in 1975. Tourist revenue had fallen by about 60%, with the cumulative loss of revenue estimated at about £180 million – £1.5 billion today.

Farmers were murdered on their farms and some in border areas were “so intimidated that they have left their homes. Many who have remained on their farms live and work in fear ... the gradual coming together of the two main groups in the rural community, which had been evident in social and organisation activity prior to 1968, has taken a bad knock”.

The RUC had been forced to pull officers from its livestock control units to respond to terrorism and “as a result of this and the general deterioration of law and order, it has not been possible to control effectively the smuggling of animals across the border. This has reduced the throughput and employment in NI meat plants and bacon factories”. Robberies of milk men in Belfast had “greatly increased” the cost of milk distribution.

There had been a major environmental impact, the NIO said: “Work on a number of cross-border rivers and other rivers in border areas has not been possible or has been interrupted because of security risks to staff and equipment. During the past five years, 28 large forestry and drainage machines have been blown up and have had to be replaced.”

There had also been 115 malicious forest fires, illegal grazing in state forests had become “a serious problem” and the government’s efforts to eradicate brucellosis and to maintain freedom from TB in cattle had suffered as a result of “those who try to defy the law for political reasons and those who take advantage of the poor state of law and order”. That meant that in areas such as south Armagh and west Tyrone cattle disease was “much worse than elsewhere”.

Intimidation from fishermen and poachers meant that it had been impossible to enforce the eel fishery regulations on Lough Neagh, it said, meaning that “eels are being overfished and this valuable commercial eel fishery is apparently deteriorating year by year”.

Similarly, in the Foyle Basin there had been poaching by armed gangs who were “openly threatening the bailiffs”, thus harming the quality of the fishery, particularly salmon.

A separate 1976 assessment noted that deaths and injuries were to a very large extent concentrated among “manual workers [and] those drawing social security benefits”, especially for unemployment.

It said that it was “amongst these people and their children that violence has become an accepted way of life. They have a feeling of general hopelessness of ever seeing an end to the killing and of being able to influence events; and they have an ambivalent attitude towards the paramilitary organisations who on the one hand allege they offer them protection whereas on the other they exercise vicious intimidation”.

However, while many of the poorest were suffering the most, the author noted that “people in other classes and in other areas” were “to large extent divorced from the violent deaths and injuries”. But even for those people there was “a continuing feeling of uncertainty” such as when family were travelling at night.

It also said: “There is no evidence that would support the hypothesis that terrorist activity has affected a pattern of psychiatric illness in Northern Ireland; indeed the reverse is true – there has been a significant decrease in depressive illness in Belfast and the riot-affected areas and the suicide rate is 50% less now than it was in 1968”.