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244 Antrim Road

Belfast

BT15 2AR
 
Tar Isteach
 
   North Belfast Republican Ex-Prisoners
 
Charity Number  NIC 100049    Company Registration Number NI47243 
 

244 Antrim Road

Belfast

BT15 2AR

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"40 Years of Criminalisation"

Barnes and Deery 2017

Link to Research Report

Executive Summary


Despite commitments made in both the Good Friday Agreement (1998) and the Saint Andrews Agreement (2007) in regard to providing support to political ex-prisoners following the end of the political conflict in Ireland no dedicated provision has been made to address the specific needs and discriminations faced by political prisoners and their families. This paper adds to the extensive body of research that has repeatedly identified those needs and the consequences of the disadvantages and structural barriers and exclusions encountered by political ex-prisoners. This stands in stark contrast to the governmental support in terms of finance, care and services for other actors in the conflict, i.e. British State forces and their locally recruited ancillaries.

Failure to fulfil commitments to politically motivated ex-prisoners has been accompanied by a relentless narrative of criminality and stigmatisation, where they are blamed as the principal culprits for the conflict. This narrative is devoid of objectivity, history or context and represents a one dimensional, self-serving political perspective that offers nothing in terms of peace building and conflict resolution.


This report sets out how almost 2 decades since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement former prisoners continued to be excluded and denied equality of citizenship. Instead of accommodation and assistance they have encountered ongoing institutionalised and legalised discrimination and disadvantage in many areas of life, including barriers to social and economic opportunity. This is particularly evident when it comes to issues such as employment, travel, access to confidential health service provision, procurement of insurance, mortgages and even adoption of children. It is evident that the issue of expunging of ‘criminal’ records would address much (not all) of the discrimination they face.

However, in addition to the above issues they are faced with new challenges as the majority of them enter their sixties, seventies eighties. ‘There is little or no recognition in the Northern Ireland social policy strategies on older people that former politically motivated prisoners exist at all, never mind that they are at greater risk than many other older people of physical and mental ill health and economic marginalization.’ (Jamieson et al., 2010 p.11-12)
7
In this survey more than half (54%) of the respondents have either surpassed or almost reached retirement age, consequently for these participants issues surrounding employment and training are of less importance for them now than they were in the past. (But not for their children and grant children). Those that are in work are still restricted to poorly paid and very small fields of employment within the labour market, e.g., taxi driving or door security. They are more likely to be in poor physical and mental health and without sufficient contributions to receive a full pension. 54.5% were released more than 40 years ago meaning that they and their families have lived with the adverse social, economic and psychological effects of having a former prisoner in the family for that length of time, ‘….for most old age will be characterised by poverty, financial hardship, poor health and continued reliance on benefits’. (Jamieson et al, 2010).


70% of those surveyed indicated experiencing one or more emotional/ psychological difficulty yet fears over the legal compulsion on health care practitioners to disclose to the police anything that would implicate the person seeking help or anyone they might mention hinder and frustrate those wishing to discuss the causes of their mental health difficulties. Unlike members of state forces - under the Terrorism Act 2000 no-one can be guaranteed confidentiality about anything they have been involved in, witnessed, or have information about in relation to the conflict. Indeed, no-one who was a member of a proscribed organisation and thus by definition a ‘criminal’ and ‘terrorist’ can even mention that fact to any health professional while explaining reasons why they may be seeking help for physical or psychological difficulties. This approach to mental health care increases barriers to inclusion, healing and well-being for both ex-prisoners and their families and dependents.

The majority of participants still see the addressing of the long standing issues of discrimination and exclusion set out above as important and long overdue. They also wish to see measures put in place that would support them and their families in the wake of over 40 years of marginalization. Their priorities include confidential access to mental health care and counselling. They would like to avail of a dedicated and resourced drop-in Centre, a safe place where they could also connect and socialize with former prisoners who shared the same experience. A place where they could engaged in positive social activities with like-minded people, such as building an oral/written history of their experiences that would allow them to share their stories with others. Or taking part in physical activity, exercise, walking, fishing, complementary therapies, art classes, life coaching, politics, or study. They would also like to see support given to the ex-prisoners groups they rely on, groups that provide real meaningful support to them and their families. The same groups that are advocating and campaigning on their behalf. Groups they know are starved of resources and are constantly in danger of closing.

Launch of the Tar Isteach Research report
'Political Ex-Prisoners - An Unadressed Legacy of the Conflict'

Link to Word Report
Link to Pdf Report
Hard copies of the report ‘Political Ex-Prisoners - An Unaddressed Legacy’; Tar Isteach: A Survey of Conflict-Related Prisoners’ Experiences, can be got at [email protected] or by writing to Tar Isteach, 244 Antrim Road, BT15 2AR
This report commissioned by Tar Isteach – Republican Ex-Prisoners Project North Belfast, and carried out by Professor Peter Shirlow and Ciaran Hughes of QUB was launched on 23th of January 2015.

Executive Summary
 
This report is based upon a programme of research that was undertaken with republican former prisoners in 2014. It included a survey of 51 persons, focus groups including men and women and follow-up interviews with survey respondents. The following are examples of some of the findings;
 
Within the sample ‘Determinate or Fixed-Term’ imprisonment was the most common type of incarceration (60.8%). More than a quarter (29.4%) had been interned, with a smaller proportion of respondents experiencing remand (23.5%) or Indeterminate/Life/Secretary of State’s Pleasure (13.7%)
 
The average length of time in prison was 7 years with the largest share of respondents (41.2%) being released in the 1980s.Around one in eight (11.6%) had been imprisoned for at least 16 years
 
As would be expected given labour market exclusion and issues relating to deprivation the majority of respondents (62.7%) live in rented accommodation, with29.4% living within their own home.In 2011 home ownership in NI was measured at67.5%or roughly 40% higher
 
In NI it has been estimated that ‘21% of the working age population claimed at least one key benefit’. Within this sample the bulk of respondents (68.7%) were in receipt of sickness/incapacity or unemployment benefit. Within that some two-thirds are claiming sickness/incapacity benefits
 
Only one in ten respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it had been easy for them to find the type of job that they are qualified for since release
 
Just 12% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the peace process has made it easier for former political prisoners to cope financially, emotionally and socially
 
Six in ten (56.9%) stated that their physical health is poor. This compares to one in ten within the NI population who stated that their health was bad or very bad
 
Almost two thirds stated that they had accomplished less than they would have liked to over the past four weeks due to their physical health
 
Poor physical health and emotional problems interferes with social activities with family, friends, neighbours and groups for the majority of respondents. Around a fifth of respondents (19.6%) stated that emotional and physical problems have not interfered at all in routine activities.
 
Although a direct comparison cannot be made with the NI population it is worth noting that the stresses and symptoms of trauma and mental ill-health are pronounced. Within the NI population almost 1 in 5 respondents (19%) showed signs of a possible mental health problem, by scoring highly on the GHQ12. Within this sample almost half of respondents (49%) have been prescribed medication for anxiety or sleeping difficulties during the past year
 
A similar, but smaller, proportion (45.1%) have been prescribed medication for depression in the last year
 
8% of those who work do not feel physical pain compared to a third of those who are unemployed who feel such pain
 
Respondents who are unemployed are more than twice as likely as those who work to take anti-depressants or medication for anxiety/sleeping difficulties
 
Half of those who state high self-esteem are in employment compared to 26.3% who are unemployed
 
A quarter of those employed compared to 46.1% of those who are unemployed stated that they have considered reducing their alcohol intake
Less than a third of respondents (31.4%) had ‘not at all’ felt nervous, anxious or on edge over the past two weeks, with more than one in ten (11.8%) feeling this way nearly every day
 
In the two weeks prior to surveying a significant proportion of respondents (26.6%) have been bothered by not being able to stop or control worrying every day or at least half of all days over the past two weeks
 
Less than a third of respondents (29.4%) have not ‘worried too much about different things’, with a significant proportion (13.7%) worrying too much about different things nearly every day 
 
The vast majority of respondents (86.3%) had experienced trouble relaxing over the previous two weeks
 
More than three quarters (76.5%) of respondents have often or sometimes thought about stressful life events when they did not mean to
 
 68.6% have often or sometimes avoided letting themselves get upset when they thought about stressful life events
 
The majority of respondents (58.9%) stated that a personal cost of the conflict and imprisonment was linked to moderate or severe physical injury. A higher share (66.7%) felt that moderate or severe psychological harm was a personal cost of the conflict and imprisonment.

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