Irish Republican News · January 24, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Former PoWs battle discrimination, resentment


A ground-breaking study has painted a bleak picture of the situation former political prisoners find themselves in.

Carried out by Peter Shirlow and Ciaran Hughes, the academic study assesses the impact of imprisonment on prisoners since early releases began almost 17 years ago.

The academics interviewed over 50 ex-prisoners, male and female, from north Belfast covering a range of ages and who had served jail terms ranging from five to over 30 years.

While most still felt a sense of solidarity with their own community just 12 per cent said they thought the peace process had made the lives of ex-prisoners easier.

A total of 68 per cent of respondents said they had been refused employment due to their conviction and 67 per cent said they had been discriminated against in other ways.

Almost all 92 per cent have had financial problems since their release while just two per cent had made financial preparations for their retirement.

Tommy Quigley, who helped found support group Tar Isteach when he was released from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, and Paul O’Neill, from the New Lodge in north Belfast, who was jailed on the evidence of IRA supergrass Christopher Black and later released on appeal, launched the report on Friday.

Mr Quigley said the findings of the study came as no surprise to those working with ex prisoners.

“Nothing has been put in place politically, we put these organisations in place to help ourselves.”

Mr Quigley said ex-prisoners felt they had gained little in terms of a peace dividend and resentment was building up in some areas, including Ardoyne.

He warned that the failure to deal with the issue of ex-prisoners is increasing opposition to the Stormont administration and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

“All these issues build up to general resentment among people, you only have to look at places like Ardoyne in the last election, 800 votes for people who are anti-agreement, that’s the level of resentment,” he said.

“Children of ex-prisoners are now avoiding jobs that take them into certain areas or that require security clearance out of fear of rejection over the past of family members.

“You discriminate against ex-prisoners, you discriminate against the entire community and generations to come.

“There is big disappointment in the republican community that this issue wasn’t addressed”, he added.

Paul O’Neill said ex-prisoners tended to come from socially disadvantaged areas and having a record stopped them having the same opportunities as others.

“People say how long are you going to be ‘ex-prisoners’, that it’s time to move on but we would say, ‘well then let us move on give us a chance to move on, stop putting obstacles in our way’.

“Not only was the prisoners’ support vital to securing the peace agreement, it has been people like myself and others who have stood at interfaces spoke to young people and helped support and maintain the peace and yet we’ve been let down.

“There’s currently a mixture of anger, apathy, fatalism in terms of conflict resolution and the peace process.

“The ex-prison issue is off the radar. It has been pushed to the margins and this doesn’t send out a good message to the communities we come from.

“People are saying look at the way ex-prisoners are being treated as part of this conflict resolution, that’s not a good situation to be in”, Mr O’Neill added.

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