Grim milestone of 3,000 Ulster killings: David McKittrick examines the unrelenting toll of violence during more than 20 years of the Troubles

THERE used to be a saying in Belfast, in the early days of the Troubles, that 'things will get worse before they get better'. Many people subscribed to that theory, yet no one believed that what lay ahead was more than two decades of violence leading to this terrible milestone of 3,000 deaths.

Several political and other sources yesterday deplored the fact that the casualty list had mounted to such a pitch, one Irish newspaper pointing out that on a pro rata basis the 3,000 casualties represent the equivalent of almost 120,000 killings in Britain.

Sweeping changes may have taken place politically, economically and socially, but the one constant has been the violence. In times of political inactivity, paramilitary groups move in to fill the vacuum; and when progress appears possible, they act to sabotage it.

Most people in Northern Ireland wish to see an end to the violence, but there are substantial minorities, both Catholic and Protestant, who support the use of force for political ends. There are many who will not use the word 'murder' to describe killings by their own side. A striking number of people from both communities can give chapter and verse on the violence inflicted on their side, but can talk for an hour without referring to the actions of their co-religionists. Some Catholic priests and Protestant ministers have a particular talent for doing this.

Such devices are obviously useful for transforming any sense of guilt into the more desirable feeling of being a victim. When their side's misdeeds are pointed out, the response is often to take refuge in 'what-aboutery'. Thus, a republican pressed about IRA violence will often retort: 'What about the Army and the Prods shooting people?' A loyalist will respond with: 'What about the IRA?'

Most people, however, tend not to dwell on the violence, preferring to take refuge in what has been called the culture of escapism. Most people who can afford it have moved out of the real trouble spots, which are today largely concentrated in a few well-defined areas of Belfast, Armagh, Tyrone and Londonderry.

These areas have suffered from an appalling concentration of violence. The border village of Castlederg, for example, has been devastated by a republican campaign against Protestants with security-force associations. The graveyard of one little Presbyterian church contains the bodies of nine Protestants killed by the IRA.

On a larger scale, the north Belfast area has experienced almost one-fifth of all deaths during the Troubles. There are Catholics there who can reel off the names of a dozen or more relatives and friends who have been killed. Such an intensity of death creates much bitterness and, often, a desire for revenge.

The constant drip of death has brutalised many, to the point where they take pleasure in hearing of the death of those they perceive as opponents. Their hearts hardened to the point where their sorrow is reserved for their own side. The deep sense of having been victimised and wronged, coupled with a lack of appreciation that others have been victimised and wronged also, has been a factor which has helped the death toll to mount.

That toll is an awful one: 3,000 people who should not have died, with a further 33,000 injured. And beyond them, no one knows how many lives and families have been shattered beyond repair in this still unresolved conflict.

Suggested Topics
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Portfolio Analyst/ PMO

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn