Irish Republican News · October 28, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Struggle continues for Blanketmen

Former prisoners who took part in 1970s ‘no wash’ and blanket protests are suffering from a range of physical and mental health problems into middle age, a study has reported.

Clinical psychologist Brandon Hamber, of the Free University in Berlin, presented the findings in his report ‘Blocks to the Future’ yesterday after research into former republican prisoners from the Derry area.

He carried out the study along with the Cunamh counselling group in the city.

From 1976 until 1981 republican prisoners took part in protests to demand political status by refusing to wear prison clothes and then refusing to wash or slop out.

The protests, which resulted in excreta being smeared on walls, evolved into the hunger strike of 1981.

After detailed interviews with former male prisoners, Dr Hamber concluded that a range of physical and mental health problems could be traced back to their period on protest.

Physical problems included arthritis and bowel complaints, while the mental health issues included anger, relationship difficulties, depression, anxiety, and feelings of guilt.

Dr Hamber said the Derry research was not necessarily representative of other studies, which have found that around 60 per cent of ex-prisoners suffered from poor emotional well-being.

But he made a number of recommendations on ways of helping those who took part in the protest.

“At a wider policy and political level there needs to be ongoing advocacy work for the improvement of support services to ex-prisoners and their families suffering from ongoing psychological impacts,” he said.

“Although most ex-prisoners do not trust or use statutory services, Cunamh should begin, using this report as a basis, a series of discussions with statutory providers to sensitise them to the issues at hand.”

* Amonther report release this week looked at the impact of imprisonment on individuals and their families and the role of former prisoners in developing the peace process.

Academics from the University of Ulster and Queen’s University of Belfast analysed the comments of 300 former prisoners and their relatives.

Eighty-one per cent of republican ex-prisoners questioned said they had been involved in community work since their release.

Kieran McEvoy, of QUB, said they found that many former prisoners were involved in “the most difficult and dangerous work in their communities”.

This work included reducing interface tension, community safety initiatives, economic regeneration, women’s groups and youth work.

In terms of peace building, more than 80 per cent of ex-prisoners and their relatives said they felt the wider community was unaware of the part played by former prisoners.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News