A court has decided that it was wrong to stop former republican prisoner Martin Neeson from working as a groundsman. A judge this week quashed a decision preventing former republican PoW Martin Neeson from working for a conservation charity.
Mr Neeson was released from jail in 1987. He later took up a job cutting grass in the Poleglass area of west Belfast and made no secret of his past. However, he was deemed unsuitable for the job after undergoing new ‘security’ checks following a funding change in 2013.
The High Court ruled this week that former DUP leader Peter Robinson breached the ministerial code in 2007 when he decided that guidelines on employing ex-prisoners formulated as part of the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement should not apply.
Justice Maguire said Robinson’s decision clearly related to a controversial or significant matter which, under Stormont rules, should be taken to the Executive. Prisoners group Coiste na nIarchimí welcomed the court ruling as “historic”.
Director Michael Culbert said it is dealing with a number of similar cases. “It challenges the status quo and the discrimination continually used against political former prisoners,” he said.
“With 25,000 people from the broad nationalist and republican community having been in jail on conflict related charges we are dealing with a sizable proportion of the population being affected.”
Mr Neeson is now expected to be compensated for loss of employment. He said the judgment “opens the door for anyone else who is going to be put in the same position”.
“I should not have been prevented from being allowed to work,” he said. “It was 38 years ago and as far as I am concerned I got the time and did the time, I can’t help what other people feel about it.”
His lawyer Niall Murphy also said it was a “resounding exoneration for the citizenship rights of the ex-political prisoner community”.