Suicide rates reveal true legacy of Provo violence
Comparing the Troubles with 1916 is to ignore the different order of suffering, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
'As you walk into Leinster House today, you see to your right a statue of Constance Markievicz in military uniform", TD Padraig MacLochlainn TD told the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last weekend.
He took a quick spin past uniformed Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha and the statues and busts of the 1916 leaders in the Dail chamber, thus illustrating that the political establishment even venerates the losers of the Civil War. "Leinster House is a shrine to violent conflict, yet those who ruled from there demanded that the nationalist people of the Six Counties, living in an Apartheid state, should take it lying down."
The message he's pushing relentlessly is that if we approve retrospectively of any of the undemocratic militaristic carry-on of 1916-23, we must logically salute what the Provisional IRA did in Northern Ireland. Faulting his logic is for those who, unlike me, venerate 1916 and all that. But it's time for a few home truths about the Provos' legacy.
I was jolted on Monday to read that since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, levels of suicide in NI have shot up so sharply as almost to equal the number of Troubles killings. Roughly, there were 3,600 killings from 1969-1998 and 3,300 suicides from 1998-2012. In 2012, for instance, compared with 15.4 per 100,000 in the North, the suicide rates were 8.5 in England, 11 in Wales, 12.2 in the Republic and 14.7 in Scotland (heavily skewed by Glasgow).
As we search for explanations like deprivation, stress, alcohol, drugs and the internet, we need to know that what has been going on in Northern Ireland is of a different order. Just to take male suicide statistics (77 per cent of the total) since 1998. While suicides have doubled in Northern Ireland, the trend has been gradually downwards in England, Scotland and Wales, and – until the 2008 recession – in the Republic. And although for years, the public services have ignored the elephant in the room, it's clear that this is linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a pointless and vicious war that terrified, brutalised and damaged hundreds of thousands. The World Mental Health Survey Initiative (an offshoot of the World Health Organisation) has found the rates of PTSD are higher in the North than in any of the other 27 countries investigated, including Brazil, Columbia, Iraq, Israel and South Africa.
Let's focus on the constituency of West Belfast, which Gerry Adams dominated for decades militarily and politically. He won the seat from the SDLP in 1983, lost it to that good man Dr Joe Hendron in 1992 and recaptured it in 1997. (Not without help. In 1997, Martin O Muilleoir, a businessman who had retired from politics but who later returned as Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast, wrote blithely in his blog: "I know a guy who voted 13 times in the 1983 election when Gerry Adams took the West Belfast seat from Gerry Fitt." In 1996, the SDLP's desperate attempts to stop electoral fraud included challenging 204 entries on the Register for a small area of the Lower Falls: 101 of the objections were allowed.)
The constituency includes the Falls, the Shankill, Poleglass, Twinbrook and other poor areas where despite lavish government expenditure, there is widespread poverty and hopelessness. The life expectancy of its 80 per cent Catholic and 17 per cent Protestant residents is the lowest in Northern Ireland. It leads the field in mortality from cancer and respiratory diseases, disability benefits, teenage births and unemployment benefit and is second only to North Belfast in its suicide rate of 23 per 100,000.
Lost Lives, which charted the Troubles killings (59 per cent perpetrated by republicans and 29 per cent by loyalists), reckoned that 49 per cent were in Belfast, where paramilitaries murdered and tortured and terrified their neighbours. Post-1998, paramilitary thugs under various tribal banners still foment violence, deal drugs, shoot rivals and mutilate teenagers. Loyalist turf-wars cause misery, while Sinn Fein maintains control and stifles dissent.
The Provos lost the fight for a united Ireland and help run the state they tried to destroy, yet have brainwashed the gullible into believing it was all about equality. As Sinn Fein representatives boast about bringing jobs to their people, they airbrush out the factories and shops blown up by the IRA and the businessmen murdered. While the terrible suicides brought self-help groups into being along with much media and public-service handwringing, there's been a lazy assumption that the victims were like those in deprived areas anywhere. Yet when the evidence was properly reviewed in 2007 by Mike Tomlinson, Professor of Social Policy in Queen's University, in The Trouble With Suicide, he showed what happened to people who lived constantly with riots, bombings, shootings, intimidation, beatings, prison, ruptured families, bereavement and so on.
Last year, Prof Tomlinson made a breakthrough with Dealing With Suicide: How Does Research Help?, a briefing document for the Northern Ireland Assembly that got through to anyone prepared to listen that the highest and most rapidly increasing suicide rates are among men from 35 to 44 who, as children grew up amid division and conflict, are psychologically fragile and unfit to cope with a new world and the question: "What was it all for?" Suicide prevention is ineffective, he explained, unless the relevance of the conflict is acknowledged and understood so that those individuals, groups and communities at risk are identified and helped.
Gerry Adams doesn't want to know. Last September, he demanded massive investment in "an all-island suicide prevention strategy". He and Padraig MacLochlainn need reminding that the IRA kept their nasty little sectarian war going for 30 years: Easter Week 1916 and the two subsequent wars involved less than four years of violence.
The viciousness and duration of the Troubles ruined the lives of generations past, present and to come. Rather than seeking validation through distortion of the truth, the perpetrators should be begging forgiveness.
www.ruthdudleyedwards.com Twitter: @RuthDE