Paper-Trailers: Supporting Research

Last year we completed research into the dire need that victims and survivors have for truth and acknowledgement.

This research became the foundation of Paper-Trailers, funded by the Executive Office’s Good Relations Fund and managed by Paper Trail. After individual meetings and interviews with key stakeholders, we canvassed the anonymous views of 109 individuals using a structured online questionnaire.

Of these, 38% of respondents were victims/survivors, 15% campaigned actively for their families, 10% worked with victims and survivors, and 13% were former combatants (the survey also included academics, human rights workers, lawyers, politicians and others).

Over 63% had no experience of accessing public records or using Freedom of Information and yet over 95% considered the information essential or very important for victims’ families; 92% considered it essential or very important for our community heritage; 95% considered it essential or very important for truth recovery; 88% considered it essential or very important for reconciliation; 88% considered it essential or very important for the general public; and 92% considered it essential or very important for future generations.

45% of respondents gave informative details of the training that would help them learn more about legacy archive research including:

–          Talks by archivists, campaigners, historians and lawyers

–          Classes on the Freedom of Information Act

–          Tours of the archives and on-the-job training

–          Digital media training

–          Basic research and data-mining skills

–          Pertinent laws and legal processes

The respondents were asked how helpful the state authorities were in retrieving and making available all of the relevant information for victims and survivors. 88% considered the state authorities were unhelpful (21%) or downright obstructive (67%) which indicates how important it is that we access this information ourselves.

Family Campaigners

This is highlighted again when family campaigns were estimated to be the most successful at accessing information (weighted average 4.24). The respective governments in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Britain were considered terrible by 72% of respondents and worse overall (weighted average 1.32). The Police Service Northern Ireland (weighted average 1.45) and politicians in general (weighted average 1.87) fared little better. The beneficial support of human rights and victims’ groups was recognised ahead of lawyers and academics.

When asked how important it was to relate and record the life experiences of victims and survivors for various groups, there was general consensus that it was important or essential. It was most important for the victims and survivors themselves (weighted average 4.54), followed very closely by future generations (weighted average 4.53). In terms of weighted average, it was less important to the general public but even then the respondents considered these recorded experiences as important at the very least (weighted average 4.08).

Overall, the respondents recognised the support that is available to victims and survivors who are trying to access the truth. Nevertheless, they consider that government and statutory bodies would not be helpful at all (if not obstructive).

Family campaigns, they believe, have been key to accessing the information in the past; and in the future, if families wish to retrieve that information, they should be considering how they can actively seek it themselves.


Join Paper-Trailers

For further information about the project, click here; and if think that you would like to be a Paper-Trailer, email Ciarán Our next run begins with a group meeting on Wednesday 8th February 2017 and an introductory class at Public Records Office Northern Ireland on Wednesday 15th February 2017.


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