Troubles have not gone away for trust's residents

Politicians from both sides of the Border have praised a Co Armagh group that helps people affected by the Troubles and tries…

Politicians from both sides of the Border have praised a Co Armagh group that helps people affected by the Troubles and tries to keep the young away from dissident groups

IAN BOTHWELL, who met a cross-Border delegation of politicians at Darkley House in south Armagh yesterday, was in nearby Keady on Tuesday night going about the regular work of the Crossfire Trust, which he runs and which he founded in 1986.

With volunteers he was meeting young people “who have been affected by the Troubles, who may be feeling the temptation to get back into violence or go into violence and who are feeling very anti-establishment”, he explained.

The cross-community Crossfire Trust is based in Darkley – a townland and a name that is synonymous with one of the darkest deeds of the Troubles: the 1983 INLA attack on the local Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church in which three worshippers were murdered – William Brown, John Cunningham and David Wilson.

The past is very present amid these rolling hills of south Armagh, Mr Bothwell said.

He briefed the politicians on the work of the trust, which has earned plaudits from the likes of former president Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth and former US president George W Bush. He told how it had moved on from dealing with the immediate effects of the conflict, to how it is now, in peacetime, trying to assist people still suffering trauma from the Troubles – and also trying to redirect young local people from taking up with dissident groupings.

The delegation he met is called the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and included politicians such as its TD chairman Dominic Hannigan, and other TDs such as Joe O’Reilly, Martin Ferris and Frank Feighan, and MPs Pat Doherty and Margaret Ritchie. “We were extremely impressed with the inspiring work of the trust,” said Mr O’Reilly.

Mr Bothwell told The Irish Times that after the Belfast Agreement in 1998 there was a general feeling that things would get better.

“But in reality I don’t think they are better. They are different, except for those who were able to move into the political arena and into the machinery of peace-building and community development.”

At any one time Darkley House can have anything from three to 20 residents, people like former prisoners, or people suffering from drugs and drink addiction or mental health problems, mostly brought on as a result of the Troubles – in some cases from direct involvement in that conflict.

Mr Bothwell and the trust’s workers and volunteers also engage in outreach work – such as in Keady on Tuesday night – going to local towns and villages to engage with people, to discuss their problems, to provide quiet counselling and assistance.

The Troubles, understandably, are out of most people’s consciousness, but they are still very real in south Armagh, said Mr Bothwell. “The mental health situation in south Armagh is acute; it’s fresh, it’s powerful, and people try to find comfort in alcohol and in drugs,” he said.

Addressing issues of guilt, regret and “what was it all about” is a huge element of the trust’s work. “There is a need for people to be able to talk about their past,” he explained.

The concept of the Crossfire Trust is as a “safe house, a place of sanctuary and hope”. He added that while he is of a Protestant background, the IRA right from his arrival in Darkley House “came to terms with me and accepted I was sound”.

He has noted “a growing resentment towards Stormont, a feeling of betrayal”, while also referring to the social disconnect between local people struggling to make ends meet and those who live in very large houses in the south Armagh Border area as a result of what he euphemistically terms the “oil industry”.

The Oireachtas-Stormont group also met the Justice for the Forgotten group in Monaghan, which is campaigning for full disclosure of the truth behind the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings, local politicians and officials in Armagh, and also civil servants from the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times