GFA prisoners still facing discrimination

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Twenty years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, republicans who were jailed for activities related to the conflict have said they are still facing barriers to employment and travel.

Representatives for Coiste na n-Iarchimi, an organisation that works on behalf of former political prisoners jailed during the conflict for their involvement in the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle spoke this past week to the committee on the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement at the Dublin parliament.

They said former republican prisoners are even discriminated against when it comes to accessing psychological treatment.

Former PoW Michael Culbert told committee members that very little has changed for these former prisoners since they were freed under the terms of the agreement.

The agreement contains a section that states the governments will recognise the importance of measures to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community by providing support.

“Unfortunately for us, people are denied access to university programmes, denied access to work to which they are well qualified, we are denied freedom for travel for many, many countries,” he said.

“Most recently four people were deported from Mexico on orders from the American government. That was according to the Mexican authorities. The problem is we don’t know where this will end twenty years after the peace agreement.”

His colleague Kevin Mulgrew said there has been some progress recently on the travel issue, but it is slow and countries like Canada and the United States are “a no-go”.

“The Australian embassy I suppose given their history have the best attitude, we’ve had some success getting people in,” he told the committee.

“I think we a bit flippantly said that if the criteria the Australians were using now were used in the original times they wouldn’t have got into Australia, you know. So they took that and they actually have been very progressive with us since then.”

Mr Mulgrew said there are issues in particular in the north of Ireland because of British legislation which denies certain rights for ex-prisoners.

This impacts on their access to psychiatric assistance.

“A lot of people are traumatised. Under the legislation, professionals cannot treat somebody in privacy, it’s almost unbelievable. If the person hears something from a client or patient relevant to the conflict and doesn’t report it even today the person who is the professional can be charged with withholding information,” he explained.

Members of the committee expressed concern about the lack of progress, with independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan describing it as “nearly incredulous at times”.

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