“We felt more safe during the Troubles”

One of the problems facing people in the most troubled areas is, claims David Connolly of the University of York, the loss of the conflict itself. The communal sense of pulling together in the ‘struggle against the British’ has largely subsided, and is, he claims, leaving people with a sense of loss.

“Over the last decade, since the Good Friday Agreement, there has been a very profound community loss. A lot of its identity was based around resistance to the state and with peace that has been lost,” he told The Times.

“It’s often difficult to cope with stability. Social relations were very strong, even if for negative reasons, and in that sense some do miss the Troubles.”

Half of the households surveyed in the local government ward of Whiterock felt that community bonds had weakened and, while many acknowledged the benefits brought by peace, two thirds said they suffered stress.

Dr Connolly, who works for the university’s “postwar reconstruction and development unit”, describes a “self-perpetuating cycle of mental ill-health” as a consequence of the long years of the Troubles and its aftermath.

But there is also some disgruntlement at the burgeoning of crime since the IRA effectively ‘went away’:

In a series of interviews and focus groups Dr Connolly encountered people who were afraid and intimidated by a new kind of violence breaking out on their streets, which had once been suppressed by the IRA. One resident told him: “There was a war on, people were scared to do drug dealing but they are not now. Children are out of control – they have no fear.

“Parents now do not know what they are doing. Before, the IRA controlled the youth and kids, now parents do not know how to. The kids themselves were involved in the conflict and had a sense of purpose; now they have nothing. The political situation is all over the place and creates anxiety.”

And he concludes:

Dr Connolly concludes that the ceasefires and the outcome of the peace process have defused the sense of communal survival and purpose along with a clear sense of a common enemy, which in turn has created a vacuum within Whiterock.

“In the postconflict peace phase ironically some people feel less secure on a day-to-day basis,” Dr Connolly said. “There has been a perceived increase in crime and life is actually more violent for a minority.”

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  • joeCanuck

    There was an analogous phenomenom reported in the late 60s in those areas bearing the brunt of the intercommunal violence in Belfast.
    The number of people seeking aid for mental problems fell considerably. A mental health specialist at the Royal speculated that people had more pressing matters to worry about that those mental fears that had anguished them previously.

  • “Parents now do not know what they are doing. Before, the IRA controlled the youth and kids, now parents do not know how to..”

    When it’s your own kids, kneecapping is a lot harder..

  • nmc

    “There has been a perceived increase in crime and life is actually more violent for a minority.”

    I would say on the Whiterock, in Ballymurphy and West Belfast at large, there has been a marked increase in crime, including violent crime. It makes more sense to me that this would be the reason that people felt more safe during the troubles – instead of the psychobabble bullshit, maybe it’s because in general people (in certain areas at least) WERE safer during the troubles.

    I would hypothesise that people feel safer when they are safer, and less safe when they are in more danger, and that the communal link of the struggle against the state doesn’t really feature at all.

  • abucs

    Seems like a good advertisement for community based restorative justice.

  • It is important to distinguish between perception and actuality. Fear of crime is often wildly disproportionate to the actual incidence:

    Results from the 2004/05 British Crime Survey (BCS) interviews show that 2.7% of households in England and Wales were victims of burglary once or more and 3.6% of adults were victims of violent crime once or more. However 12% and 16% of adults, respectively, were very worried about becoming a victim of these crimes.

    But, as the report also notes, some people are suffering much higher levels of actual violent crime.

  • Dawkins

    I’m in two minds about this. I can see how the absence of community-based restorative “justice” can encourage the street crews. Yet it’s also fair to say that youth criminality has risen clear across the UK and Ireland during the period that coincides with the Troubles.

    I deliberately wrote “coincides” because I think perhaps it’s no more than coincidence. Perhaps it’s worth asking why many countries in mainland Europe don’t suffer quite as much from feral youth. I think maybe the truth has more to do with cans of cheap lager than a cessation of paramilitary activity.

  • like a hole in the head

    yeah we all miss it

  • Rory

    It can hardly be surprising that when a community, faced with the threat of violence and disruption by the very forces of the state itself and more sinister forces that are liable, with state impunity, to inflict violence upon them, then find, through co-operation and a sense of solidarity, a means of defelecting that fear, an increased sense of security and, as a result of their involvement, a growing sense of purpose and fulfillment in their lives and that this should be reflected in their childrens’ own sense of ownership of their lives.

    The corollary will inevitably be that when that sense of control is returned to the state, whatever hopeful promise that state might first have offered, that there will be a deflation, a sense of loss.

    The question is, “Is that loss real?”. I believe that it is and that this twaddle of “perception” is in fact a deception to confuse people further about the the very real loss of control over the immediacies of their own lives and to placate them with the idea that the state will allay all fears.

    “As if”, I believe would be the modern youth response to that. And mine too.

    My concern over Dr Connolly’s objectivity however is alerted when he refers to a community’s positive experience of solidarity in adversity as being for “negative reasons”. Applying pressure to a bleeding wound can hardly be described reasonably as “negative”.

  • The Dubliner

    Mick, Dr Connolly’s report was commissioned by a local school in Ballymurphy and focuses on youth in that particular area, so it’s a bit silly to try to apply that report beyond the scope of its locality, leading to statements such as “kids themselves were involved in the conflict and had a sense of purpose” not making any sense when applied generically, to say, middle class catholic kids elsewhere who weren’t used as the local rent-a-mob every time that PSF wanted to stage a riot for the evening news.

  • Rubicon

    “kids themselves were involved in the conflict and had a sense of purpose” – and how old are these “kids”? The ‘coflict’ finished a long time ago – unless we’re talking about loyalists.

    So – they’re people out there who were happier in the troubles than they are now?

    Oh dear!

    We’ll just have to do something about that then won’t we! How about not working for a living? Not enough? OK – how about we classify this delussion as a disability and give you money? Is that OK? Feel better now?

    Poor dears – take this tablet, take a rest, cash this cheque …

    Jesus Mary & Joseph! Was this Dr. Connolly hit by plastic bullet in the head?

    So – we’re now to believe that we’ve kids suffering from PTSD, while playing computer games that graphically cut people to pieces and blaming the BBC for re-runs of old broadcasts?

    What we have is a stack of latch-key children whose parents don’t give a shite (at best) looking for a gob-shite to make it OK. Enter Dr. Connolly …

  • Harry Flashman

    Er, now why do I agree with every word you’ve just said Rubicon yet in another thread I thought you were a complete idiot who hadn’t a single intelligent thought in his head?

    Who should be the more worried about this mutual agreement, me or you?

  • Rory

    Would it not be, Harry, that you just feel so much at home with a blind unreasoned attack on working class parents and their children that is fuelled by nothing other than blind prejudice and supposition?

  • DK

    This fear of “rise in crime” caused by a loss of the iron-control of the paramilitaries might be taken seriously if the PSNI hadn’t just released statistics showing that crime levels, including violent crime, were decreasing (see today’s itish times).

    Perhaps people are just noticing crime more these days, and are seeing it as crime, whereas before it was considered part of the struggle.