Monday, 30 March 2020

Covid-19, Trauma, and Planting Seeds of Hope

Image may contain: one or more people and plant



Over the years, I have been trying to help people affected by violence and trauma through education and planting seeds of hope. I hope that the same will be done for those of us soon to be affected by COVID-19.

The loss that we humans will face in the coming months will be immense. This may bring to the fore severe psychological trauma that will take a long time to recover from. We must do all we can to help those affected by the trauma.

The disease will kill many but it will also leave its mark on those left behind. Trauma in the first instance happens to individuals, to human beings. Those who died are victims. Those who are left behind, those who grieve for them, the bereaved, are the victims.

Although this trauma may differ to those who were affected by violence, the effects will be similar in how people feel the loss. The individuals affected will attempt to pick up the pieces. The pieces of their lives that were once whole will now be shattered. 

This is the first effect of trauma. It can shatter lives. It can shatter hopes. It can shatter beliefs, understandings, and assumptions about how the world works. What seemed normal before the trauma will be questionable post-trauma Trauma can leave individuals with a very negative view of the world.

This can become imprinted in the victim’s psyche and can lead in many cases to poor mental health. For many people a traumatic incident is considered a "turning point". 

People that have suffered trauma – and remember that a trauma incident is most usually unexpected and unpreventable – can think of the moment of their trauma as the day the clocks stopped.

The traumatised individual can be left vulnerable. This vulnerability can be further impacted by how society deals with those left traumatised. This disease has already seen sections of our community being attacked and stigmatised.

Traumatised people can become voiceless, without agency, stuck in their victimhood. Left to fend for themselves. Silenced. Invalidated.  The sheer scale of loss will leave many feeling that they cannot speak about their own loss.

We should not let this happen. We should encourage people to talk about their loss. To not feel shame. To not feel guilt. To not feel blame. It may sound wrong but we should help people to find some meaning in their loss and suffering.

We should plant seeds within those left traumatised that could eventually lead to “post-traumatic growth” (PTG). We should instil hope that people, with the proper support, can recover and embark on a new journey after the suffering.

Posttraumatic growth is not the same as an increase in well-being or a decrease in distress. Growth comes from the individual’s struggle with a highly distressing set of circumstances that significantly challenges people’s understanding of the world and their place in it.

We must help each other to find new ways of seeing the world after the trauma that will rip through our society.  We must do our best to see that we come out the other side of this pandemic as a better society. One that learns to grow and thrive

There are 5 domains of PTG: Greater appreciation of life and changed sense of priorities; Warmer, more intimate relationships with others; A greater sense of personal strength; Recognition of new possibilities or paths for one’s life; Spiritual development

This involves: Meaning Making: Finding meaning in your trauma, making sense of your suffering; Identity Production: realising that the identity you had before may be gone, and where one must create a new identity; as well as Narrative Building and Re-telling one’s story: retelling enables the person to potentially bring into focus different aspects of the self not clearly considered before, "producing an elaborated identity, giving the trauma meaning and significance".

This should be our aim. We can all help. The role of others as “expert listeners” (not just professionals and practitioners) in supporting the individual in their journey towards post-traumatic growth is important.

“Supportive others can aid in posttraumatic growth by providing a way to craft narratives about the changes that have occurred, and by offering perspectives that can be integrated into schema change" (Tedeschi and Calhoun 2004, 8).

“The cognitive processing of trauma into growth appears to be aided in many people by self-disclosure in supportive social environments" (Tedeschi and Calhoun 2004 :11). Creating a better social environment (Post-Covid 19) is essential.

We must all play our part. We must become empathetic expert listeners. We must give the victims a voice. We must enable agency. We must grasp the opportunity by challenging our politicians to make significant changes to how our society operates.

We must create a trauma informed society. We must enable growth. We must not leave people feeling that they are on the edge of society.  This disease must open our eyes once and for all that the way we live now is not working. Let’s change it.

Please do your own research on the effects of trauma and the possibilities for growth. Not everyone will experience this but as someone who did I feel it is my duty to share it with you all in the hope that I can plant these seeds in you and in society. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Victims and the Media: First, Do No Harm - Then, Do Some Good.

I spoke at a conference yesterday organised by Queen's University's 'Victims and Dealing with the Past' project team to launch a new set of media guidelines. Following extensive consultation with victims and survivors and journalists and editors, two sets of guidelines – one for victims and survivors on media engagement and one for journalists, editors and educators on how to engage with victims and survivors and report on legacy issues – were produced. Here are my words:


I fully welcome these new guidelines for both victims and survivors and for those who represent the media.

They are a long time coming and we need to thank everyone involved in their production.

There is an inherent need for such guidelines because for many decades there was, is and will be an interaction between those affected by the violence and those who seek to discuss and disseminate these effects.

We only need to pick up our daily newspapers, stick on the radio or watch our local news bulletins and political programmes to see the past in our present. And realistically we know that this will continue into our future. 

What runs through these guidelines is the necessity to treat victims of the conflict with respect and dignity. To ensure that we do no further harm to those who have been harmed in the most grievous ways in the past. 

These guidelines warn against unscrupulous and unskilled reporters inflicting further wounds on those affected by (and I quote) “inappropriate earlier media coverage, public indifference, failure to investigate by the police, perceived injustice in the courts or perceived rewarding of perpetrators through a peace process.”

The concept of doing no harm should be priority of all ethical journalists and is quite frankly, a no brainer. So, if we take this responsibility as a given, what else are we to make of these guidelines? Are they asking journalists and those in the media to consider something more? Should they inspire journalists and our media to not just do no harm but to also do some good? I say yes.

I believe that they should counter the effects of “inappropriate earlier media coverage” that I just mentioned with media coverage more suited to the needs of victims and survivors. They should tackle the aforementioned “public indifference” by helping the public to understand and empathise with those most affected. They should challenge the police who had earlier and are even now currently failing to investigate the crimes of the past in an effective human rights compliant fashion. They should shine a light on how the courts meted out further injustice upon those who sought accountability. They should give voice to those who feel that a peace process has left them behind. 

In effect the journalist of today and the future should seek to remedy those who had been badly treated by the media in the past.  

I am not seeking to pin blame or condemn those who came before and may still work in the media today but I am asking that with these guidelines comes a new and more appropriate way of dealing with our fractured society. I am asking that our media draws its line in the sand and moves on from its past.

I am asking that they do their job as the 4th Estate and to really be the advocates for those without voice against the dominant systems of government and bureaucracy. They need to utilise their ability to frame political issues for victims and not for the governments. They need to embrace their indirect but powerful social influence and hold government to account.  

Now this comes natural to many of our current journalists. Investigations into political corruption, incompetence and duplicity are tackled with the vigour it deserves. Journalist win all sorts of awards and platitudes for shining their light on these issues and rightly so but when it comes to some of the reporting on the legacy of our conflict many are left wanting.

They run for cover under the security blankets of media neutrality and impartiality when instead they should be partial when they see continuing injustice being meted out against those who have been harmed in the past. They should be focusing on the needs of the little old lady whose child was killed in the 1970s with the same vigour as they do for the little old lady who faces eviction from their nursing home.

They should be asking the questions of government as to why they have not brought forward measures to deal with all victims instead of asking those victims who have seen movement in the courts to comment upon the actions of the various actors in the conflict; and what should be done about them. There is no whataboutery when they are dealing with the concerns of the little old lady in the nursing home. They don’t ask her to empathise with the worries of a CEO in the local Health and Social Care Trust as they try to balance their budgets, do they?

This is the challenge for the journalists of today and the future. Are you willing to throw off the practices of the past and help rebuild a future we can all be proud of? You all have an important part to play in calling out injustice and have the power to shine a bright light into the dark parts of our past. 

With the help of your stories, told in an open and honest way, free of political interference, we as a society can better understand the harms of the past. You can show us how it still affects those who were there, those who were left behind and those who are still yet to be born.

Now is the time to embrace this opportunity.


Sunday, 9 December 2018

"We have moved on but we will not be moved aside" - The WAVE Injured Group


Below is a copy of our speech on the launch of the photographic exhibition "Injured on that Day" from the WAVE injured Group – Royal Victoria Hospital – Thursday 6th December 2018.


Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline NUJ

"We have witnessed a range of different exhibitions over the years relating to the conflict, the Troubles. Colin Davidson’s “Silent Testimony” is a striking example of the power of visual art to convey the reality of loss through the eyes of the sitters. Other examples include the Pat Finucane Centre’s “In Their Shoes” exhibition which represents the loss of loved ones by displaying their old shoes with a short bio about them. Other groups have produced books and quilts.

"This is our exhibition. The WAVE Injured Group.












Images courtesy of Kevin Cooper.
Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline NUJ



"What you see around you are the images of ten people but there could have been many more for there are many more like us.

"Images that were taken over a period of weeks at the beginning of 2018. They were captured, in many cases, in or near our homes. Places of safety and security, places of love.

"Images taken in an instant.

"Yet, they are also images that represent the effects of another time, another place, another instant.

"In such instants, lives were changed forever. The life you knew before that instant was gone. A new life was ahead of you. And we did not know on what path that new life would take us.

"We survived, just about, in many cases, but survive we did. We woke up in places like this, the Royal Victoria Hospital. Many were unaware of what had happened to them. One minute they were sipping coffee in a restaurant, the next, they were lying in a hospital bed, confused and frightened.

"We were left to get on with it. To begin the long and winding healing process, physically and emotionally. Many of us only had the support of our family, our carers to help us through. Some thrived, others stayed at home. Many felt forgotten and excluded. Many of us just stayed out of sight. This was the reality for some for decades.

"That changed when we came to WAVE. We came there at different times, for different reasons and with different expectations. It was there that we no longer felt forgotten. No longer did we feel excluded. No longer did we feel invisible.

"But that was not enough. For this needed to happen across society.

"That is the purpose of this exhibition. To make us visible again. To remind people that we still exist. These images cannot be ignored. Their size alone rules this out. Six foot by six foot. They will be hard to walk past.




Image courtesy of Neil Harrison Photography


Image courtesy of Neil Harrison Photography

"They tell the story that we are still here. That we survived. The accompanying biographies are short and to the point. They only state what happened in that instant in time, when we were injured. There is no indication as to who injured us. There is no judgement or blame apportioned. That is not what we are about. They are just statements to the fact that we were severely injured and that we are still here.



Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline NUJ

"These images are also reminders that something needs to be done to help us continue on our life’s journey. That we were left behind by society. That we were badly treated. That we have been left to struggle. That many of us fear the present and the future.

"But images alone are not enough.

"We needed to do more to break the barriers of ignorance, of indifference, of apathy. We needed to break through in a society that really wants to forget about the conflict. We needed something more. We needed to educate the public that we exist.

"That is why the WAVE Injured Group was formed. That is why we started the Campaign for Recognition. That is why we collected a petition of 10,000 signatures and brought it to Stormont, the Dail and to 10 Downing Street. That is why we have been lobbying for a Pension for the Injured. That is why we are here today.



Copyright © Kevin Cooper Photoline NUJ - The WAVE Injured Group Petition Handover - May 2012

"This exhibition is part and parcel of the Campaign for Recognition. We need to be recognised. We need to be acknowledged. We need support.

"However, we don’t need charity and we don’t need sympathy. We need empathy. That is why we need people to see us and to hear us. These images are a visual reminder of those injured during the Troubles.

"Many of us are old. Many of us are getting tired of the constant strain of campaigning. Asking for what we feel should have been dealt with a long, long time ago.

"We may not be around for much longer. But our voices and our images will. If needs be, we will bring these pictures with us when we meet our politicians. They will be in the room with us. They will be that constant reminder that something must be done and must be done now. Before it is too late.

"That cannot be allowed to happen. We cautiously welcome the guarantees given to us by the UK Government that they will bring this Pension forward. However, we have been given promises before only to be let down by our local politicians. We must not be let down again. 

Thank you for listening.

*************************************************************************************************************

A special mention should go to Neil Harrison at neilharrisonphotography.com for the creation and production of the "Injured on that Day" exhibition photographs.
http://neilharrisonphotography.com/wp/the-injured/

All of the following images are courtesy of Neil Harrison.


Paul Gallagher

Patrick Cassidy

Alex Bunting

Jennifer McNern

Robert Barfoot

Andrew Peden

Peter Heathwood

Mark Kelly

Margaret Yeaman

Mary Hannon-Fletcher

Further links relating to the Injured Exhibition Launch:

Irish News Editorial - "Seriously Injured Victims Deserve Better" - Saturday 8th December 2018

Belfast Telegraph - "Nesbitt close to tears as injured survivors of the Troubles relive their ordeals and tell of fight for pensions" - Friday 7th December 2018

Belfast Telegraph Editor's Viewpoint - "Survivors have been shunned for too long" - Friday 7th December 2018 


Monday, 6 August 2018

Féile 2018 - Unfinished Peace - Independent Commission on Information Retrieval

I was asked to speak at the Féile last week as part of the Victims and Survivors Forum. The topic was "Unfinished Peace". Three colleagues and I touched upon the range of mechanisms laid out in the Stormont House Agreement aimed at dealing with the legacy of our violent conflict. The UK Government is currently consulting on the legislation which will form the basis of these institutions. I was tasked with looking at the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR).

These are my opening remarks:


I have been engaged with people in the so-called victims’ sector for about ten years now and I have worn many different hats, at different times, in different places.  I have been a direct victim, a victims’ campaigner, an inside researcher, a victims’ group member, a victims’ group chair, a citizen educator, a victims’ Forum member, but most of all, I am Paul Gallagher, a member of this society. And as a member of this society, this broken and divided society, I have a responsibility to help fix it and bring us together in any way I can.

When I look at all previous attempts to deal with the past, I always ask myself who is it for and will it do any good? Some will say: dealing with the past is only for the victims and survivors, the families of the dead; and the injured. To help them to come to terms with what happened to them. I believe that dealing with the legacy of the past is for all of us in society.  Whether we were directly affected or not, we are all living with the consequences of that past. A cursory glance at the TV news or the papers, on any day of the week, will reveal some reference to the conflict. It permeates through society; it poisons our body politic.  We are all affected by it and if we don’t deal with it, it will always be there.

Over these past ten years, and for many years before that, I have met people who have been affected in a number of ways by the conflict. They have been asking for a variety of things that they hope will remedy their harms. Justice, truth, acknowledgement, and reparations.  I now want to concentrate on truth, but in many ways, all of these are interconnected.  The current consultation on the Stormont House Agreement (SHA) deals with truth through the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, the ICIR.

ICIR is one of the mechanisms to come out of the SHA, agreed by the two governments and the five main parties in late 2014.  It did not, however, come out of thin air. It came, like many of these mechanisms, from the demands of victims and survivors themselves, from the people who were most affected, from the people who need answers to the many questions they have been asking for decades.

It is based on the need to know about the death of their loved ones. About finding information as to their final moments. About whether they died in an instant or whether they suffered. About whether they were targeted or whether it was a random killing. It is about the why and the how. About getting to the truth of what happened to them.

It is about engaging with those who caused the harm; and asking questions. For in many cases, it is they and only they who hold the answers, who hold the truth.

The answers may not always be what we want to hear. Sometimes the truth can be bitter. It can be hard to swallow. But in my experience, it is better to have the truth out in the open instead of being hidden in dark corners. Surrounded by conjecture, rumour, victim-blaming, stigma, uncertainty, doubt, and downright lies. It is only once we have the truth that we can then process it in our minds, and be able to live with it.

But this process should not about those that caused harm spinning the truth to suit their ends. To justify what they did. To lie about what happened so they can live with themselves.
I have my own experience of this type of thing. There was a book written a few years back about a certain sectarian gang and their heroic operations, taking on the enemy.  They gave details of all their killings, and failed attempts, of which my attack was one.  Their claim was that all of their targets were legitimate targets. That they were all members of paramilitary groups; and so deserved their fate. The fact is that their targets were mainly civilians. Sitting in their homes. Walking down the street. Driving their taxis. In the right place at the right time. Just living their lives.

But this gang got their version of the story down on paper first. They muddied the waters. They blamed the victims. They stigmatised them.

ICIR must not become the same thing. Their reports must be scrutinised. They need to be verified. To be credible. To be put against other evidence and corroborated.  This is the supposed remit of ICIR.

Now, when it comes to engaging with ICIR, people may not get everything they are looking for but at least they will have tried and may get something. It may be good enough.  It may be enough to clear someone’s name. To remove the stigma around the killing.  It may be enough to give the families a sense of closure, in that, this part of their journey is complete, that the quest for truth and acknowledgement has been satisfied, and they can move onto the next stage of their lives.  So many have been held back by this denial of truth, unable to move on.  It is hoped that ICIR can be the mechanism to help with this process.

This requires a buy-in from all concerned. From the families and from those who caused their harm. Expectations will need to be managed. Trust will need to be built. Fears will need to be overcome. 

There are concerns about how much information will be forthcoming from different actors.  About who keeps records and who doesn’t. About what will be told and what will be concealed. About who will be vindicated and who will be embarrassed. About whether something revealed can be used against someone else to bring them before the courts. About whether people are labelled traitors or touts. All of these things can scupper the process and leave victims and survivors wanting. This cannot happen again.

That is why I am asking all stakeholders to think about who this is for how they can do some good.  You can be cynical and only give snippets of information that serve your own agenda; or you can fully engage with the process and give the victims what they need.

Put yourselves in their shoes and ask yourselves would this be good enough for me. Could I go a bit further without putting others in jeopardy?  Is this the best I can do to help people to move on? Because if you don’t you will be holding the victims back. And not just them but their children and grand-children, even those yet to be born.

We all know that some families have been campaigning for truth for nearly five decades now. Those who hold any knowledge must understand that these families will never give up. By releasing the truth, you are releasing your hold over these families.

Allow your members to engage with ICIR if they so wish. Don’t shame them or call them traitors. Do something for yourselves, for the victims, and for society. Take a risk with ICIR.
And I say this to the various groups within Loyalist circles: don’t hold yourselves back because you weren’t part of the political negotiations around it. Once ICIR is set up engage with it. Find the courage to do the right thing. Don’t let the petty politics of inadequate negotiations or the lack of an electoral mandate stop you from engaging in what could help your fellow citizens.

The same goes for the British Army and other state forces: come forward if you have something to say – don’t let the top brass muzzle you for fear of embarrassing the Crown. Get it off your chest. Tell the truth about what you did. About what happened in terms of collusion or in the many shooting incidents that you were involved in.

To Republicans: let go of your Omerta vows – set the truth free. Lift the lid on the secrets you hold. Tell all that you can without putting people at risk. Be honest with the community that gave you support, about those who were branded touts and informers by the Stakeknives of this world.  Give the families of those who served in the police or the army the answers that they too deserve. Don’t just pass yourselves with the stock justification that they were legitimate targets – think about the individual, the person – think about the family they left behind. What can you do for them?

To all stakeholders, to the people who will hopefully engage with ICIR, whether you are the victims or whether you are someone who caused harm – put yourselves in the shoes of the other – empathise with them. Ask yourselves, what would be good enough for you?  What do you expect they could reasonably give you and what could you live with? 

That is the promise of the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.  It is a way to gain information that may give victims’ families some knowledge or understanding about the death of their loved ones.  Now is the time for the UK Government to live up to its responsibilities and deliver for these families.  By helping them to move on in their life journeys you can also help the rest of society do the same.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Victims and the Media - Instruments or Players?

I was asked to speak to a conference in Queen's University, Belfast on Monday on the subject of victimhood and the media.  This is my speech.


The theme of my talk today is centred on the relationship between victims of the Troubles and the media in Northern Ireland; and whether or not victims are instruments of the media or players with the media.  As a direct victim of the conflict, I will give some examples which I hope will illuminate my own personal experience of this sometimes-fraught relationship.

Now one might ask what I mean by victims and what I mean by the media.  As anyone with any common sense will know, it would be foolish to try to bundle these two groups together as homogenous packages.  The victims and the media are made up of people of all shapes and sizes.  With different identities. Different political perspectives. Different ideologies. And most importantly, they are people with different experiences or even no experience of the conflict.

This can shape their world view. It can shape their thinking about the conflict.  About who they are as victims and who they are as journalists or presenters. 

The Media

When it comes to the media we have many different people in a variety of roles.  This can be in print media, on radio talk shows, on the TV news or current affairs programming.  They will have different parameters within which to work.  They may be constrained by their editors as to what they work on in any given day.  They may be pressured, externally, or even self-censor, to ignore certain topics or to vigorously pursue others depending on the particular political stance of their organisation.  They may be instructed that they have to provide a balance between different narratives.  They may have different styles of questioning and reporting. They may be restricted by the amount of time they can give to the story.

All of this makes the media environment a difficult place for the people working within it, especially when they are dealing with matters relating to our conflict.  It is within this public sphere where much of the battles of the past are being played out today, especially by some of our politicians.  The media are also players in this battle of narratives.  They will claim to be neutral, above the politics, just there to hear the stories and re-present them to their audience. 

But this is impossible.  We are all biased in some way or another. We are all constructed by the society we live in. All shaped by our experiences of the world.  All affected by the conflict in some shape or form.  This is normal.  We are only human.

Now, while the majority of our media representatives are reflexive, self-critical, and conscious of their biases and limitations, there is a tendency for some to engage in what is called conflict journalism. Conflict journalism, for me, is highlighted by a fixation on what divides us rather than what could unite us.  Highlighting difference and avoiding similarities.  It is characterised by a constant focus on the zero-sum scenarios that have ravaged our body politic for decades.

Instruments

It is within this style of journalism that I feel that victims become instruments of these conflict journalists.  Where victims are used as a means to an end: to further advance the narrative battle. The meta-conflict: the conflict about the conflict.  Where the suffering of the so-called innocent victims, the heroes and martyrs, is highlighted for the purpose of showing how heinous the terrorists, the perpetrators, the monsters and villains, were.  Conflict journalism also tends to sensationalise the suffering of the victims as helpless souls in need of pity. 




As an example, I would like to you back to an episode of Nolan Live from June 2015.  The main topic that evening was concerned with the issue of a pension for those who were injured during the Troubles. As many of you will know, I am part of the Wave Injured Group who have been campaigning for this since 2011 and I was on the show that evening.  This invitation followed a BBC Spotlight programme from the previous evening which looked into the issue. 


Being a pre-recorded 30-minute format, Spotlight has the time and space to gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of this campaign, and of the people involved.  We as a group were delighted with the end product.  We had been treated very sensitively by the production team. Our voices were heard and so were those who had concerns about the implications of the campaign: which could include provision for severely injured non-state actors. 

The next morning, I was invited onto the Nolan radio show.  The host that day was Enda McClafferty.  It was a measured interview.  I was given time and space to engage with the arguments and to have a constructive dialogue with the other guests.  I was left with a feeling that I had been listened to and heard. 

Later that day the call came to appear on the TV version. Along with my colleagues, I made my way to the studio, took my front row seat and got miked up, ready to go.  As the theme music died down so began the toxic battle of narratives. The obligatory Sinn Fein talking head versus the DUP one, with the host interrupting every ten seconds in his inimitable style. 

Then he came to me. As I attempted to give my reply, to add some nuance to the complexity of the conflicted society I was born into, to move away from the black and white, the good and evil, I was promptly interrupted and asked to talk about my own suffering. To describe my injuries, to describe my pain, to describe my life as a helpless victim.  I had not come there to do this: but under the studio lights and with the cameras looking on I reluctantly complied.  Once complete, I attempted to move onto more comfortable ground, but most of my token “two minutes” were used up by this stage. 



Onto the next victim and more of the same.  A young woman who was severely burned in the Omagh Bomb was asked about her experience of suffering. At the same time, the big screen displayed a stock image of a “terrorist”, placed alongside a graphic picture of Donna Marie, and the question was put to the audience: are they the same? 


The simple answer is: there is no simple answer.  But that was not the point.  The point was to show the extremes.  The evil wrongdoer beside the pure and innocent victim.  It was not about exploring the context or the nature of the conflict.  Such stark imagery was used to highlight the differences and to avoid the human similarities.  To keep a clear dividing line between the two.  The worthwhile issue of the pension and what it could do to help the survivors, was lost.

In the end I left feeling as though our campaign had been pushed back.  The sympathetic line taken by the Spotlight programme had been tarnished by the toxicity of the Nolan Show.  We felt that we had been used as instruments, to create a toxic debate in the studio that evening.  We had hoped that our issue would have been taken on by the host on its own merits: much in the same way that he champions other worthwhile cases, such as frail elderly people being ejected from their nursing homes. 

It is within this sphere that this presenter is at his best.  He listens to the case and empathises with the person in front of him.  His voice softens and his tone is more in tune with his weekend Radio 5 Live persona.  He fights the corner for these helpless victims of state bureaucracy, by giving them a loud voice: instructing his production team to make behind the scenes phone-calls on their behalf; sometimes resulting in satisfaction for the injured party.

This is not the case when it comes to many victims of the conflict.  These cases are not taken on their individual merits.  The injustice felt by individuals and families cannot be seen in its own light.  There must always be a contradictory voice in the studio: to provide balance when in many cases no balance is needed.  It would be safe to assume that there are no behind the scenes calls made to resolve these issues.



But maybe I am being too hard on the Nolan Show.  They are not the only ones I would view purveyors of conflict journalism.  Our daily newspapers are filled with this style of reportage. Highlighting the negatives rather than the potential for transformation.


And maybe I am also being unfair to Stephen Nolan as a journalist.  His fixation on the suffering of the victims may actually be a useful way to attract the sympathy of the public to a specific issue.  This is something that we as a group have learned during the course of our campaign.  This is where we became players with the media. 

Players

To bring forward our campaign we knew that we had to enter the political arena. We would need to gain political support. We would have to play the game. We would need to gain the support of the public.  We would need to gain sympathy.  We would need to bring forward the human story in order for people to empathise with us.  In order to be seen as deserving of support.

We would need to use the media to frame our campaign in a way that would garner support.  We knew from very early on in the campaign the importance of imagery.  We consciously decided to put the wheelchair users front and centre of any media pictures. 


We understood how powerful the image of a woman, blinded by a no warning bomb, pushing her friend’s wheelchair, who lost her legs in a similar explosion, would be. Our amputees have been more than willing to pull off their trousers and remove their prosthetic limbs when needed. We have been open to telling the stories of how we were visited by the horrors of the past, of how we still suffer today, and how many of us fear the future.  This can be viewed by some as degrading.


Now this type of engagement is counter-intuitive to many of us as victims and survivors.  We don’t want to be seen as the helpless victims begging for support.  We want to be able to get on with our lives and grow. But because our government, at Westminster and the old Assembly, failed to provide us with the necessary support we had no other choice.  

We need to bare all, in order to be heard.  We need to shame and embarrass the powers that be to do something.  Otherwise we stay invisible, marginalised and ignored.  We are forced to keep going to the media, year on year, to let people know we are still here. Waiting.

And in this environment, the media have been willing to play along.  They have responded to the vast majority of our press releases.  Some have been printed in the papers.  Others have come along to our homes.  Set up their cameras and given us our two-minute slots on the evening news.  They have spoken to us down the line on the morning news shows.  At the moment we are still ‘newsworthy’.  But this cannot last forever.  Maybe they will get bored of our story.  What then for the campaign?

Conclusion

To conclude, I need to be generous to our fellow citizens in the media.  While I may have had some experiences that left a bad taste in the mouth, the majority have been positive and useful.  We have learned from past lessons that some formats are better than others when it comes to discussing such sensitive issues.  Journalists, like us, the victims and survivors, should always be willing to learn.  They may try to be objective, balanced, and detached but they cannot escape the reality that they too have been shaped by the same society that shaped us.  

All we ask is that they continue to try to treat us with dignity and respect, to be cognisant of what happened to us in the past, and to be sensitive with our stories.  But we would also ask that they too become campaigners against injustice. They have a major part to play in transforming the peace. They should take on the tough stories and help highlight what people are going through. But they should do this with a forward-looking focus, to help find a resolution, not as a way to fight the old battles. The should aim to be peace journalists.

On a note of caution, I believe that as a society we should not give carte blanche to victims and survivors and pander to all of their demands. Victims should not be put on high pedestals, free from criticism or scrutiny.  All we ask is that should we be held to the same standards as anybody else.  We are players - but we are players in our own right and should not be used as instruments. If our demands are right and just then that should be the reason for granting them. We are still ordinary citizens but with different needs. Who want to be seen as valued members of society. Visible, listened to, and respected. No more, no less.