Irish Republican News · March 28, 2008
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Good Friday Agreement - Ten years on
Good Friday Agreement - Ten years on

Over 250 republican prisoners were released as a result of a key element of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. A look at what happened to two of those prisoners, ten years on from the agreement.

West Belfast woman Rosie McCorley was the first female political prisoner to be released under the Good Friday Agreement, having served nine years of a 22-year sentence for possession of explosives.

After leaving jail she spent the next eight years working for Coiste na n-Iarchimi, an ex-prisoners’ group dealing with issues of discrimination faced by former prisoners.

“Discrimination wasn’t a major problem for me personally because I worked for Coiste and then Sinn Féin but for many others it was,’’ she said.

The former IRA Volunteer said the easiest way to put ex-prisoners on an equal footing in society is to expunge prison records.

“There is much that could be done but some things are politically less achievable than others. At Coiste we campaigned for what we thought was possible,’’ she said.

“We have certainly came a long way in 10 years but there are still battles and prejudices to overcome.

“For instance I couldn’t go to America. Now for some that’s just a holiday but for others it can be about maintaining family ties.

“There are these silly situations and contradictions in existence where Gerry Kelly can be a minister in Stormont but he couldn’t get a job working as a civil servant in the same building.”

A decade on Ms McCorley recalled how the period leading up to the prisoners’ release was full of uncertainty.

“Since the ceasefires people were saying ‘you’ll all be getting out soon’ but I never felt that,’’ she said.

“The agreement mentioned prisoners but it wasn’t specific, so there was still uncertainty.

“When I did get out I remember everything going really fast - traffic seemed to go faster, and people having mobile phones. No-one had a mobile phone when I went to jail.

“I also remember feeling very tired for days, months really, then after about three months thinking that’s enough - I really better get out and do something with my life.”

MARTINA ANDERSON

Born in Derry’s Bogside into a strongly republican family, Martina Anderson was also among the small number of political prisoners being held in Maghaberry jail during the Good Friday Agreemnt negotiations.

Last year she was one of the first three Sinn Féin members to take seats on the Policing Board following the party’s controversial decision to endorse policing structures.

Her journey from IRA Volunteer to prisoner and finally senior politician a remarkable one.

In 1986 Ms Anderson was sentenced to life in prison at the Old Bailey in London for conspiracy to cause explosion.

When she walked free from Maghaberry in 1998 under the early release scheme, she had spent 13 and a half years behind bars.

Last year the former beauty queen was elected as a Sinn Féin assembly member for Foyle.

Recalling the negotiations leading to the signing of the agreement, she said prisoners were consulted and their views sought every step of the way.

“A massive amount of engagement took place,” she said.

“We had delegations visiting the prison on a weekly if not a daily basis.

“When I came out of prison after that length of time - and I had previously thought it would have been longer - I really didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

“I considered going to Magee to do a PhD. I had gained a first class honours degree in jail but I found that prospect in itself daunting.

“It was then that an opportunity for a job working in the assembly came up and a number of us, including a few of my ex-comrades, applied. Much to my surprise I was successful.

“I remember driving up to Stormont on my first day at work, not long out of jail and thinking now this is going to be a challenge.

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have an awful lot still to achieve, especially when it comes to making lives better for the ordinary people of my home city of Derry, something I feel very strongly about.”

© 2008 Irish Republican News