One-third of Troubles’ victims have attempted suicide

Troubles Toxic Legacy
Docklands Victims Association president Jonathon Ganesh

Colin Gannon

One-third of people who survived a violent incident during the Troubles have attempted to take their own lives, according to a new survey.

A poll of 2,000 members of the London-based Docklands Victims Association found that 32 per cent of respondents had attempted suicide.

The group’s president Jonathan Ganesh said that many had suicidal thoughts linked to post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues related to violence during the Troubles, which lasted from 1968 to 1998.

Meanwhile, a survivor of one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles has said victims of violence during the conflict continue to be left fending for themselves and that the British government’s inaction in securing compensation led him to attempt to take his own life.

Joe Holbeach, 67, was metres from the Cenotaph war memorial in Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday in 1987 when a Provisional IRA bomb blew it up. Eleven people died – mostly elderly couples – with many others left injured.

Troubles Toxic Legacy
The Cenotaph war memorial in Enniskillen

It emerged last week that one in three of those affected by violence during the Troubles had attempted suicide. The research – carried out by Dockland Victims Association (DVA), a victims group led by Jonathan Ganesh, a survivor of the 1996 Dockland bombing in London – found that among 2,000 Troubles’ victims surveyed in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, 32% had attempted suicide.

Ganesh also admitted that in some cases people had taken their own lives. Many, like Holbeach, still receive medical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorders and suffer from long-term depression-related consequences.

Holbeach, from Lurgan, Armagh, told the Irish World that his memory of the explosion is vivid and that the events running up to the bombing and the sense of quiet after it detonated still “haunt” him to this day.

Mental health

“It felt like meteorites flying in space all around me. All I could think was, ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die’,” he said. “Everything just went dark and silent for a few minutes. I saw light and I went to it and all I saw was just debris and bodies everywhere.”

He has suffered a lifetime of mental health issues as a result of the bombing, including severe anxiety and depression, a fight with alcoholism and a suicide attempt. Although he says he has been sober for nine and a half years and is “grateful for his life”, he still has nightmares and his struggle for justice only worsens them.

“The lack of action from the British Government – Blair, Brown, Cameron and now May and [Boris Johnson] – it drove me to try and take my life,” he said.

Holbeach has backed Ganesh and the DVA in their continued fight to claim justice for Semtex bomb victims.

“We’ve been campaigning for justice for too long. It’s all I ever wanted – justice,” he said.

Troubles Toxic Legacy

There has been significant evidence to show that Semtex – an odourless, plastic explosive – was supplied by the Gaddafi regime in Libya to the Provisional IRA, which was then used in a number of devastating attacks on UK soil.

Gaddafi had stored £7.5 billion in London banks before being overthrown, leading to victims groups seeing this as a potential reserve for victims’ reparations.

The Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster last year concluded in a damning report that successive Labour and Tory administrations failed to offer proper support to those caught up in Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terror attacks. It also criticised the UK government for failing to pursue reparations for victims.

Through the USA-Libya Claims Settlement Agreement in 2008, the USA secured compensation from Libya for Libyan-sponsored terrorism. French and German governments also secured compensation for their citizens.


The committee’s report found that UK victims had been excluded from the terms of the US-Libyan 2008 agreement and said that although it wasn’t clear how much force the UK government used to try to secure compensation for its citizens, it was “deeply regrettable” that the Bush administration appeared to have not been willing to assist in delivering justice for semtex-related deaths in the UK.

“Some people in some countries get millions. I got a cooker from the Victim Supports Service and 600 pounds,” Holbeach said. “The German government fought for their people; the French; the American government fought for their people; every government except the British has fought for victims of semtex bombings.”

The DVA, set up in the aftermath of the Dockland bombing where two people died and £150 million worth of damage was caused, has repeated calls for pensions for those seriously injured victims and for those with severe mental health conditions.

Speaking about his hopes for justice going forward, Holbeach said: “How many people have to say they suffer from PTSD or commit suicide for someone help us get justice.

“We need an envoy, a new commission or something. We have been ignored for a long time.

“I lost my wife, I lost a lot of sleep, I never really recovered. I have my life – thank god – that’s all I really have, to be honest.”

The report was presented to officials from the Northern Ireland Office in London, as well as Prime Minister Theresa May’s office and representatives from the Irish government.

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