Nine in 10 former paramilitary prisoners at support group not in work

Nine out of 10 former paramilitary prisoners at a Co Down support centre are not working 20 years after the end of the conflict.

Ageing ex-inmates feel like “second-class citizens” blamed for the decades of violence, a seminar organised by Co-operation Ireland heard.

Many are struggling with ill-health and challenges obtaining benefits.

Leo Foy from the Plough Historical and Cultural Group, based in Newry, said they had become alienated.

He added: “A lot of people are frustrated and disillusioned and they mistrust the system.”

Mr Foy said less than 4.5% of the former inmates who came to his organisation for help were employed and none were in education.

Around a fifth were retired, statistics showed.

Mr Foy added: “We have got 94% of people who are not economically active from the ex-prisoner and former combatant communities. Those are startling figures.”

Tom Roberts, director of the Ex-Prisoners’ Interpretive Centre (EPIC), works with former UVF prisoners.

He said they suffered disproportionately from ill-health, depression, anxiety and alcohol misuse.

Mr Roberts said: “It is not right that involvement in the conflict should mean a life of poverty, isolation and second-class citizenship.

“Former political prisoners require the restoration of full and equal citizenship.”

Mr Roberts added that their isolation would continue without the political will to tackle it.

He acknowledged the legacy of the Troubles remained contested, and added: “Ex-prisoners are seen as a convenient hook to hang responsibility for the conflict on.”

Mr Roberts addressed a meeting of the Open Doors Ex-Prisoners Project in Co Antrim.

.@COPNI Eddie Lynch addresses ex prisoners at today’s @OpenDoorsEPFC seminar in Antrim. @eastside2020, Tom Roberts from EPIC, Seamus McHenry from Teach Na Failte and Leo Foy from The Plough have spoken on the challenges facing former combatants

— Co-operation Ireland (@cooperationirl) March 20, 2019

Seamus McHenry is a former republican socialist prisoner from Teach na Failte ex-prisoners’ group.

He became homeless after he was released from Maze/Long Kesh but was supported by other former inmates.

He underwent major surgery twice and was in a lot of pain.

Mr McHenry said: “Because of the struggle which many ex-combatants have been involved in, a lot have had issues with mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

David Stitt, a co-ordinator at East Belfast-based Charter NI, also addressed the meeting.

He said they were making a positive difference to their communities and building positive relationships.