New voices, old pain
: a qualitative investigation into victim support bias in the Northern Ireland conflict

  • Jamie Harry McCann

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (MPhil)


The concept of a ‘hierarchy of victimhood’ has become a significant phrase in Northern Irish politics, particularly in the aftermath of the Troubles and the subsequent ‘meta-conflict’ following the Good Friday Agreement. Some factions argue for the establishment of a moral hierarchy among victims, while others contend that such a hierarchy already exists, fuelled by sectarian divisions and institutionalized prejudices against the Catholic population. This qualitative study explores the experiences of 35 individuals affected by the Troubles, including 15 members of the security forces, 10 Protestant civilians, and 10 Catholic civilians. A distinct subgroup was also formed, focusing on victims who allege collusion and miscarriages of justice.

The primary objective of this study is to investigate whether the support offered to victims through various institutions demonstrates biases based on their religious affiliation in the short to medium term. By conducting interviews and analysing victim testimonies regarding psychological and financial support, the justice process, and media coverage, this study presents victim-centred evidence to examine the existence of hierarchies in the official channels of support provided to these communities.

The findings of this study reveal that while there was no deliberate bias based on religious denomination, unintended consequences disproportionately affected Catholic civilian victims. This disparity was particularly evident in the removal of the Historical Enquiry Team and the inadequate financial assistance offered. Moreover, victims of collusion and miscarriages of justice were unjustly denied financial aid and justice due to their classification as non-innocent victims and the alleged misrepresentation of their losses.

This study highlights the profound impact of policies that inadvertently perpetuate a hierarchy of victimhood and underscores the importance of fair and equitable support for all victims of the Northern Irish Troubles. It calls for a comprehensive reassessment of existing support systems to ensure equal treatment, regardless of their religious background.
Date of Award28 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorKieran Joseph McConaghy (Supervisor) & Diego Muro Ruiz (Supervisor)


  • Justice
  • Media
  • Victimology
  • Northern Ireland
  • Qualitative data
  • Victim support

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