The Victims and Survivors Forum
The Victims and Survivors Forum are at the heart of everything that we do.
The Forum is made up of people with different backgrounds, beliefs, experiences and opinions but whose lives have been shaped in some way by the Troubles.
Meet our Forum Members
Alan Brecknell is one of the longest standing members of the forum, having been involved since the first pilot scheme. He stepped aside briefly, before re-joining again in 2016. He believes this forum’s strength is in the respect and trust that members have for each other. He says: “As you listen to people, you get a real sense of why they are saying it. It’s not just for individual needs, it’s for what’s best for everyone together.”
An advocacy worker with the Pat Finucane Centre, Alan trained as a quantity surveyor before his own search for answers led him into the public record offices and newspaper archives that he now uses to help others.
He passionately believes victims and survivors need some form of process by which they can find out what happened to their loved ones, before those unanswered questions are passed on along with the hurt and pain to the next generation.
Alan himself was seven years old when his father was killed and his uncle and aunt severely injured in a gun and bomb attack at a pub in Silverbridge in 1975. His father had been out celebrating the birth of his third child.
Alan’s family, while traumatised, carried on with life. It wasn’t until 1999 when his own son asked him why he didn’t have a grandfather that Alan began trying to find out for himself. The journey, he discovered, was very slow and frustrating, and no one was ever convicted for the killings.
“It is no good waiting for perfect. We have to do what we can here and now to piece together as much as we can for victims and survivors. Time is running out for so many who are elderly. Perfect can come later,” he says.
As well as the forum, Alan is involved with his local Gaelic Football Club, is a keen reader of crime thrillers and enjoys getting out into the mountains from his home in Co. Armagh. He is also currently studying for a degree in Psychological Trauma Studies at Queens University Belfast.
From working in a trauma centre and a mental health organisation to being a member of the Forum for Victims and Survivors, many of the roles that Paul Crawford takes on in life focus on helping people to recover to the fullest degree that they can.
Paul spent over 17 years working with adults with severe and enduring mental health difficulties, managing supported housing schemes and community wellbeing services.
Paul joined the forum in 2016 after seeing an advertisement and thinking he could make a difference. His own personal journey of recovery has brought him to a place of hope thanks to the continued support of his family, and to his professional approach to conflict resolution.
During the conflict, he lost close family members and friends, witnessed first-hand the immediate aftermath of killings, and survived an assassination attempt on his own life in 1981.
Paul says: “It has been an honour working with the people on the forum and for the wider society. The group of people on the forum with me are all different, decent human beings. They represent pretty much every viewpoint and I have enjoyed that we have discussed in a positive way and worked through difference to find the common ground on which to build.
“Some of the conversations are quite difficult, but there is never an argument. And never, ever a personal attack. There will always be differences in viewpoints on individual matters but I consider every single person on the forum to be a friend. We support each other as human beings and we work hard towards helping create a better future for all”.
“I would hope that the forum continues to influence decision-makers and wider society to help to inform resolution.”
Paul has six children, 13 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time in the Black Mountains and the occasional cryptic crossword.
Paul Gallagher is keen to inspire a sense of hope after trauma to everyone he meets, whether that is in his work with victims and survivors of the Troubles, or with the students he teaches through his work as a Trauma Education Officer in WAVE Trauma Centre.
A victims’ campaigner from Belfast, he joined the forum in 2016. He brings with him years of experience in working with local cross-community groups, WAVE Trauma Centre and VAST (Victims and Survivors Trust).
He first got involved with cross-community work after his young nephews and nieces began to ask why he uses a wheelchair. Having been shot in a sectarian attack on his home by UDA gunmen when he was 21 years old, he did not want his response to be filled with hate and retribution.
His involvement in WAVE led to a short course that was a lightbulb moment for him, showing him how his somewhat directionless life had been a response to his own personal trauma. By 2010, he had returned to education, studying for an undergraduate degree in Psychological Trauma Studies and then a Masters in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queens University Belfast. Paul then went on to complete his PhD on the Campaign for Recognition led by the WAVE Injured Group of which he was an integral part.
Throughout his time on the forum, he has enjoyed building relationships with his colleagues, and listening to each of their journeys.
“Our society has sectarianised us for centuries. We are living the residue of this and we have to see it and be honest with ourselves. The biggest strength of the forum is building relationships with people who are ‘from the other side’. The forum’s members are willing to really listen, and to hear how others have been affected by the conflict in different ways. They inspire me and I hope that some days I can inspire them too.”
When he isn’t studying, teaching or campaigning, he enjoys the company of his two dogs, getting out and about in his car, watching Liverpool matches and going to live music concerts.
Paul McCormac is a medical practitioner specialising in orthopaedics and physiotherapy. He puts his knowledge to good use both on his clients and in his own life, as he is a world title winning kickboxer, a mountaineer and Ironman triathlete. Despite a cycling accident that left him with multiple spinal fractures and a three-year battle to recover, he still competes internationally, often bringing home medals.
Since joining the forum in 2016, Paul’s confidence has grown in each meeting with politicians and governments. He believes the forum has really shaped and influenced key policies such as the Victims’ Pension and the proposals made in the Stormont House Agreement.
Paul was only six years old when his father, a civil servant, was shot dead by the UFF in 1973. The years that followed were difficult ones, as Paul’s mother struggled to raise four children on a basic pension with little physical or emotional support available.
Growing up near the Garvaghy Road area of Portadown, he also witnessed a lot of sectarian violence from both sides. His family experienced another loss in 1985 when his uncle, an RUC Sargent, was murdered by the IRA.
These experiences allow Paul to see all points of view when it comes to discussing issues that affect victims and survivors. “What happened to everyone was part of a conflict – it is not a one-sided story. I want to bring positivity to the forum, as well as a willingness to find common ground as we move things forward.”
He also believes that legacy issues need to be addressed as soon as possible, as many of those involved are nearing the end of their lives.
“Our biggest mission is to ensure this never happens again. The way things are now with legacy not dealt with and things like reparations being unequal, plays into the hands of those trying to stir up conflict. These issues can’t wait for another 15 years. They need sorted now.”
When he isn’t working and training, Paul enjoys spending time with his family and his two Labradors, Reilly and Murphy. A keen mountaineer, he plans to climb Mount Blanc in the near future and has ambitions for Everest should the opportunity arise.
Emmett McConomy manages a care agency that provides day-to-day support for deaf adults living with other disabilities. It is a role that he has enjoyed being in for 22 years, and alongside his love of fishing, caravanning and spending time with his family, he has what he calls a ‘quiet life’ in his home city of Derry.
He joined the forum in 2016, attracted by the opportunity it provided to influence policy and legislation, and because it made a difference to all victims rather than just one section of the community. He hadn’t any previous experience of this sort of group, but simply wanted to make a positive difference to others who had endured similar trauma to his own family.
In 1982, his older brother Stephen was shot by a British Army soldier with a plastic bullet in the back of his head. He died three days later, aged just 11 years old.
Emmett grew up fearful and angry, but chose a path other than violence simply because he could not put his mother through the pain of losing another son. He left school at 16 to work in a factory, followed by a men’s homeless shelter. This led him back into college, nursing and the care profession to which he has dedicated his career.
He believes that victims and survivors deserve meaningful answers, and that seeking these should be an option available to those families who want it. He says: “I think the forum holds a lot of weight and influence with government. We just need to stamp our feet louder.”
He also believes victims and survivors can play a crucial role in helping to persuade young people to not get involved in the current wave of sectarianism. “If young people can understand even a percentage of the pain that we have been through, then they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing. As a society, we need to learn from our mistakes and right the wrongs that happened so this never happens again.”
Mary Moreland MBE
As former chairperson of the War Widows’ Association, Mary Moreland was one of the most prominent campaigners for war widows’ rights in the United Kingdom.
Since she took on the role in 2017, she focused on connecting members to help reduce the loneliness and isolation that many feel, empowering them to tell their stories, and championing research that will help ease their suffering.
Herself a widow, she has first-hand experience of these issues. In 1988, her husband was killed by the IRA. He was a serving UDR soldier, and he left behind Mary and their two young children.
In time, Mary changed jobs and began to move through the ranks within the Department for Health. She completed a business degree and then a Masters in Counselling and Therapeutic Communications.
On finding the strength to keep going after her husband’s murder, Mary believes she was fortunate to have had a diverse upbringing in a loving and caring family that held no hate or bitterness. She also believes her tenacity fuels her desire to help make things better, not just for her family but for society as a whole.
She joined the Forum in 2016 with that same desire. She says: “I definitely would not want any future generation to go through the experience of ‘the troubles’. My motivation is that if you can do anything in a small part to help improve society and make sure it doesn’t happen again, then you have got to do it. You can’t sit back.”
She also believes that victims and survivors issues should be more important in the wider community. “The Troubles impacted all of society and it will take society as a whole to fix it,” she adds.
When she isn’t attending meetings, completing research, or connecting with colleagues through her charity work, Mary enjoys being outdoors, reading detective novels and following the motorsports season from her home in Northern Ireland.
Niall Ó Murchú
Niall is a human rights lawyer from North Belfast, running a general practice in the heart of Ardoyne. Born and bred in the area, he is also involved with the local GAA and teaches adult Irish language classes.
With two sons who both have Asperger’s, he has an interest in cases that help those with special needs access the education that they are entitled to. He also does a lot of legacy work, using various legal processes and mechanisms to help victims and their families pursue truth and justice. His aim is that, where possible, the court process can help gain acknowledgement and recognition for what happened to them or their loved ones, no matter what their background or circumstances may be.
He joined the forum after losing friends and neighbours during the conflict, and some of his earliest memories include the Hunger Strikes and riots in the early 80s. But it was the sectarian killing of his 17-year-old uncle by loyalists in 1974, who were state agents, that affected him the most. Although only one month old, Niall’s grandmother lived with his family and he shared in her trauma growing up, before he eventually became her carer for the last years of her life.
Speaking about the forum, he says it is a really tight group of people who can come to agreed positions even if they have different views. He says: “Whatever issues we are dealing with, we try to deal with it positively and progressively. We are there to be a voice of reason and compromise. We can assist with issues such as legacy and pensions – or any future issues – because we as a group can say what we think should happen, from a point of view where there is no sectarian or political divide. Above everything else, we are there to help victims and survivors, so we can all move forwards together as a society.”
Niall trained and worked as a teacher for nearly a decade before he began helping a friend with legacy research. This inspired him to change career, and he did a law conversion degree and worked for others before himself and his partner set up their own practice. He still manages to squeeze in a few hobbies around parenting, including restoring classic cars and teaching Irish in his spare time.
Minty Thompson has a long career in community and cross-community work, from bringing together young people through the International Fund for Ireland to working as a senior mentoring employment officer in the Greater Shantallow area of Derry, where she lives.
Never one to rest, she enjoys being involved in her local area. She was part of the rapid response team delivering food parcels during the Coronavirus pandemic, and she volunteers weekly with a men’s health and wellbeing group.
She joined the forum in 2016. It is her aim to help ensure victims are looked after and supported ‘from the ground up’. While she herself struggles with the label of ‘victim’, she knows many in her community who have suffered but do not have the confidence to put themselves forward. She hopes to be their voice.
She has found the forum to be an amazing group: “We all come from different backgrounds, and have all been hurt. But ‘all mother’s tears are the same’ as they say and there is a real willingness to hear and to listen. We have to find a way to fix this for everyone and it has to be victim-centered.”
In 1971, Minty’s mother was shot dead in her back garden by a British soldier. Minty was only 12 years old. It took nearly five decades for her family’s search for truth and justice to reach a courtroom.
While she herself does not hold bitterness – a view that was passed down to her by her father – she does believe more can be done to make legacy issues easier for families like her own.
Minty is also a Director of the Museum of Free Derry, where she has welcomed former soldiers who have returned to the city to piece together something of the situation they found themselves in during the conflict. Minty’s own journey has given her compassion, though she does laugh at the irony of the situation.
Minty’s hope is that there is a new Ireland coming in the very near future – a place that benefits, protects, cherishes and supports everyone equally across the island.
Since retiring from his managerial role in the agri-foods industry, Sam Wilson has become more involved in victims’ groups both in his local area and province-wide. Through this, he has seen the tremendous need amongst victims and their families for support with issues such as isolation, depression, mental health problems and anxiety.
He has also noticed how the counselling services he is involved with are being used more and more by the children of those who had suffered during the years of the Troubles.
He joined the forum in 2016, and has enjoyed each challenge won in the journey to getting victims’ payments into legislation. He also considers the friendship and togetherness of his fellow forum members ‘extraordinary’.
He says: “In the forum we don’t always agree, but we work to get a solution that everyone can support. It’s because we all know that grief and loss is exactly the same no matter what side you come from – there’s a strength in that.”
During the Troubles, Sam served initially as a member of the police reserve, before joining the UDR. He was caught up in the bomb attack on Armagh Rugby Club, his cousin Edward Spence was shot and killed whilst on police duty, and he had a bomb placed under his car whilst he attended a funeral of a friend.
His wife, who was a prison officer, was also badly assaulted which left her with injuries that forced her to retire and continue to cause pain.
Sam is a founding member of the Out of the Shadows group in Richhill, and an active member of his local Phoenix group which brings together mainly veterans’ organisations whose members experienced conflict-related suffering during the Troubles.
He is also heavily involved in his local rugby club in Armagh. Having represented Ulster at junior level, he has clocked up games in many countries around the world, continuing to run out onto the pitch himself right up until his sixties.