Republican ex-prisoners not second-class citizens

By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)

The joint first minister Martin McGuinness was absolutely right when he said that his heart went out to the Travers family over the IRA killing of their daughter Mary but that he could not agree with Ann Travers when she called for Mary McArdle to be removed as a special adviser to minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

There is not a republican in the country who would disagree with these views. The killing of Mary Travers was wrong and that has been made clear by republicans in recent days and clearly the family are going through an extremely difficult time - transition from conflict to peace is never easy, especially for those bereaved and injured. And while there is a legitimate media interest in this story, sections of the media lose the run of themselves because of their anti-republican bias.

They will use the emotions of families who are then abandoned when the story has run its course.

Martin McGuinness and republican leaders are charged with the responsibility of creating the conditions through the peace process of ensuring that no other family will lose anyone as a result of armed conflict. But he also has a responsibility to uphold a fundamental right for republicans to play a full part in society.

Republicans will not be made second-class citizens after having fought against the second-class citizenship that caused so much of the conflict.

Republicans have taken many initiatives to help ensure there are no more grieving relatives.

The IRA called a ceasefire and ended its armed struggle. It acknowledged the hurt it caused to those it had killed and injured and apologised.

This was recognised by many groups working on behalf of relatives. Sinn Fein is the only party that has published comprehensive views on how best to address the past. There are many examples where British crown force killers were not only protected but, on the rare occasions when some were imprisoned, they were released early and promoted in the British crown forces.

There was no media outcry then or complaints from unionist spokespersons. Hundreds of families are still waiting to hear the truth about why their loved ones were killed as a result of state collusion with loyalists.

There is a long history of systemic human rights abuse by British state forces. It is estimated that there are 30,000 former political prisoners. They experienced a conveyor-belt of oppression - internment without trial, torture and brutality at the hands of the RUC in interrogation centres, forced confessions and jury-less Diplock courts before being rail-roaded into jail for decades. Many were innocent.

Many former political prisoners had loved ones killed while they were in prison. Several of those involved in Sinn Fein’s administration at the assembly had close relatives killed in the conflict.

Women republican prisoners like Mary McArdle experienced prolonged abuse by prison officers who for years used strip-searching in an effort to degrade them. The singling out of Mary McArdle is a form of selective criminalisation of former PoWs.

As far as republicans are concerned the issue of criminalisation was settled 30 years ago when 10 republicans died on hunger strike. Republicans will not allow post-conflict isolation or vilification of former PoWs. Indeed, there are many unacceptable restrictions still imposed on former political prisoners which republicans are determined to have removed.

Prior to partition the British occupied all of Ireland and its power was based on discrimination against nationalists.

After partition this discrimination continued. The armed conflict was fuelled by discrimination pre-and post-partition. Republicans will not participate in any form of discrimination against former political prisoners.

This latest controversy highlights once again the need for a truth process so that the voices of the relatives of all of those who were killed are heard in a meaningful and purposeful way - in a way that does not sensationalise grief but provides a platform for the voices and views of all victims to be heard equally and brings to an end the hierarchy of victimhood. Republicans have made it clear that in those circumstances they will play their part as they have done throughout the peace and political processes.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News