Nuala Perry with an unpublished letter to the Irish News. Nuala Perry is a long standing republican activist and former prisoner. She currently campaigns on behalf of republican prisoners.
On the 23rd of January the Irish News carried an interview by Ex-prisoners Tommy Quigley and Paul O Neill.
The crux of their interview relates to a recent research study into the plight of Ex-Political prisoners. The research paper ‘An Unaddressed Legacy’ was commissioned and conducted in 2014 by academics Peter Shirlow and Ciaran Hughes.
This study, which is described in the interview as ‘ground breaking’, has been credited with producing findings that paint a ‘bleak picture’. A picture so disturbingly bleak that, not only did it reveal responses that suggest, almost 17 years after a ‘historic settlement’ only 12% of the participants believed that the ‘Peace Process’ had made life easier, 98% reported they still struggled with financial problems, while issues of discrimination relating to employment and other areas rated quite high. It also led those being interviewed to claim that, a correlation exists between the factors that produced these findings, the rise of ‘dissident activity’ and 800 hundred votes being cast in Ardoyne.
Grim as these recent research findings are, they are definitely not ‘ground breaking’ nor are they new.
In fact, similar commissioned studies with similar findings and by at least one of these authors are on record going back a considerable amount of years.
Where this study does differ however, is in the fact that, when this programme of research was underway in 2014, and the terms relative to the outcome, apathy and fatalism were being bandied about, and reiterated by Coiste na nlarchimi in their submission for funding to the Haass talks.
The leadership of Sinn Fein, through a process of high flown rhetoric were assuring their electorate, which undoubtedly included those making the funding submissions, as well as those who took part in the recent research that, since the ceasefire people are now enjoying a quality of life unthinkable 20 years ago.
Double speak on this scale not only creates ambiguity, it leads to a policy of political fudging that can flutter on the breeze without providing one shred of tangible evidence to support the positive terminology of having ‘moved on.’.
The danger of this type of window dressing lies in the fact, it gives rise to apathy and this type of apathy and not the bizarre ‘dissident’ theory, alluded to in the Quigley, O'Neill interview. Maybe the most feasible explanation as to why 800 people voted for an alternative candidate in Ardoyne.
What does remain unthinkable and totally tangible and contrary to the spin, is the fact that, 17 years after a ground-breaking ‘Agreement’ allegedly based on equality, the criminal tags and their offshoot criminal clauses still bizarrely remain.
The extent to which they remain is evident in another commissioned study, this time the report was at the behest of the OFMDFM.
This study, which was carried out by George Quigley, and resulted in recommendations for the removal or a caveat to the unfair and restrictive stipulations in the ‘Equal’ Employment legislation (1998) was rejected outright by the then Minister of Finance and Personnel, Peter Robinson, (now First Minister), who claimed, ‘There were already adequate procedures in place for dealing with those with criminal records.’
The fact these barriers to employment and practically every other aspect of former political prisoners lives look set to remain, acts as a damning indictment as to what was supposedly achieved here.
These barriers also provide a support mechanism for their primary function, which is to perpetuate an enduring legacy of criminalisation which ensures, that for the majority of former political prisoners, the quality of life that others boast, will forever remain unthinkable.