Fionnuala Perry responds to criticisms levelled at her by members of Tar Isteach in the Andersonstown News. A long standing republican activist and former political prisoner, Nuala Perry currently campaigns on behalf of republican prisoners.
Recently the Andersonstown News (April 4th) in their letters page asked the question, ‘Where were you, Nuala?’
The question was taken in part, from a final paragraph of a letter by Tommy Quigley and Paul ‘Cruncher’ O Neill that relates to my recent criticism of an interview they conducted in relation the ongoing plight of former political prisoners.
Both these men who are representatives of Tar Isteach claim that, my ‘critique’ of a study commissioned by their group An Unaddressed Legacy failed to recognise the significant contributions these studies have made in measuring experiences of former prisoners over time and place.
In doing so, they say I ignored the relevance of the social and emotive outcomes and how these are intrinsic to understanding the experiences of how a particular study group evolves, or doesn’t, whichever the case.
My ‘critique’ also apparently, failed to recognise the significance of Tar Isteach as an ex-prisoners group and how it’s impending closure would resonate on a much needed service.
Add to that the fact that, ‘without any evidential base’ I made the claim that those who participated in the study were either members of Sinn Fein or part of their electoral base.
Not satisfied with all of this, I accused this group and Sinn Fein of double speak and spin and then added insult to injury by not availing of the opinions of these ‘community activists’ to find why they reached their bizarre conclusion as to the cause of apathy and voting patterns in Ardoyne.
Failure to do so they argue, leaves me with a disadvantage so skewed it merely serves to produce a misnomer which suggest that they (Tar Isteach) are incapable of independent thought.
In response to all of the above, I would like to state that, as a former political prisoner, I was never invited to any such launch, nor have I ever been invited to similar launches.
I have never been asked to take part in any study in relation to former political prisoners and neither has any former political prisoners I know.
In 17 years, I have received one letter from Coiste, a letter which related to an Information Day in Culturlann. An information Day, that due to a prior engagement I could not attend. However, on good authority I was told it was not a day that encouraged open opinion or debate but rather governed by a diktat mindset.
In relation to An Unaddressed Legacy and similar studies, I have never questioned their significance. If anything I would applaud any apparatus that would bring about significant change.
What I do criticise is the fact, that one significant and central feature appears to be played down in all these studies, which is strange given the fact it is a causal factor in relation to the perpetuation of political ex -prisoners experiences.
That fact is this, Sinn Fein, a party representative of, and inextricably linked to the majority of these ex-prisoners groups, were both party to and fully fledged signatories of an Agreement, whereby the section on former political prisoners was underpinned by a process geared towards reintegration as opposed to decriminalisation
Add to that, the fact this agreed process has found its way into ‘Equal Opportunity’ legislation. Legislation that legally criminalises former political prisoners convicted pre 1998 and wipes out any rights from those Republicans venturing a thought outside the ‘New Strategy’ after 1998.
All of this entitles me to make the claim that, on the back of the 20 year GFA euphoria by Sinn Fein and the apathy generated around this study, ambiguity and mixed messages seem to be the order of the day, just like the welfare debacle and the on the runs, you people appear to have no problem spouting two conflicting ‘truths?’ from opposite corners of the same mouth.
As for the composition of those who took part in the study, I don’t think we need to put our hands into the wounds to get the answer to that one.
I agree with you two on one point though. I think it is shameful that community posts are being shelved due to funding cuts, whether it is at the behest of dried up Peace benefits or Tory cuts via Stormont.
It begs the question however, as to why one of the richest parties in Ireland, Sinn Fein cannot subsidise groupings who claim their remit is to cater for the very people who did the heavy lifting in bringing about their mandate.
Equally shameful is the very sad fact, that many, many Republican former prisoners who were never realistically going to be part of your ‘multiple reading’ or any other melting pot theory, did not have their lives and experience measured over time and space, if only to show how political ostracism impacted on their ability to breath, never mind evolve.