Marie Breen-Smyth the Associated Dean International at the University of Surrey talks to Martine Madden about the injury she suffered, how her family responded to it and how her life has been affected.
Martine was run over by a British People Carrier on her way to visit her parent’s fruit shop on North Queen Street in Belfast. She was aged just 5 years old.
“I was in the hospital for two years trying to save a foot because the foot was just totally crushed.”
After lengthy surgeries and several skin graft operations in attempts to save her foot, Martine’s parents made the difficult decision to have their daughter’s foot amputated when she was 7 years old.
“Thankfully I had a good family support. My father was always very positive, always taught me that people take you as they find you and for the person that you are and not what’s wrong with you. There were times in teenage years that I found more difficult. When you were going out with your friends and you were looking at boys or one thing or another, you always had it in the back of your mind.”
Martine recalls support being provided solely by her family and friends. Government and social support organisations were non-existent, “from the day and hour I was knocked down, my family were offered nothing. I was knocked down and that was it, get on with it. The UDR had been on the scene that day, they did come and visit me in the hospital on two occasion’s although they weren’t the actually people that knocked me down.”
“My parents were offered no counselling at all and they had to come through years of turmoil. My Daddy told me a few days before he died about the decision they had to make for me to have my leg amputated when I was seven. They carried it with them all their lives. They had only coped with it knowing that I had coped with it. If I hadn’t accepted it, they would have never have forgiven themselves.”
Martine’s parents also found the judicial process and legal representation of her case against the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), to be a challenging and uncompromising experience. During those times of conflict and political unrest the British Army were seldom taken to court. Testimonies of witnesses at the scene when Martine was run over were dismissed on the grounds of bias. In the end, Martine’s parent’s had to settle for £10,000 on the basis that they agree that their daughter’s case could never be re-opened in a court of law again.
“They didn’t take into account for one minute, the problems and the surgeries that I was going to have to face. Here I am, nearly 40 years later, still having problems and even with the care of my children, it has a knock on effect. What was £10,000 or what is it now?”
Looking back on the actions and responsibility of the British Army Martine doesn’t feel anger, “I was never angry at the British Army, my attitude was they were doing their job. But what maddened me was the fact they knocked me down on the wrong side of the road, yet the courts still didn’t see that they were wrong. They were still just offering me this money as a goodwill gesture, in other words, shut up and just move on.”
Martine married and has three daughters. The eldest daughter, Martine explains, had a lot of caring responsibilities for her age as a result of Martine’s injury. Her second child suffers from epilepsy and has limited mobility. With their youngest daughter, Martine feels the circle is coming full swing again with her youngest daughter performing the roles and tasks that her eldest used to perform. Such lost childhoods make the £10,000 seem all the less adequate.
“I always said you don’t have a disabled child, you have a disabled family. To me it just affects the entire circle.”
Martine is concerned about the future. “I think of people with arthritis and in pain when they’re in their 60s and 70s. I feel these pains in my joints now, obviously it’s been with the extra wear and tear over the years.”
Martine eventually received limited support through the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, “they give you money towards a short break. They actually supplied one of my limbs for me because the Health Service didn’t even provide a silicon limb. That’s the only thing really that I receive.”
This interview was supported by the WAVE Trauma Centre, University of Surrey and the Community Relations Council.