29 November 2007 Edition

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Former prisoners challenge employment bar

TWO republican former prisoners, refused employment because of their convictions, are challenging an employment tribunal’s ruling.
Seán McConkey, from Belfast, and Jervis Marks, from South Armagh, took their case to the Appeal Court in Belfast last Thursday, 22 November, claiming they were discriminated against as former prisoners.
The men applied for jobs as residential support workers with the homeless charity, the Simon Community.
McConkey, who was released in 1997 after serving 14 years of a life sentence, was selected for a post in the charity’s Falls Road shelter but the offer was withdrawn after a security check was carried out.
A similar security check, carried out on Marks who was serving 15 years and was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, lead to the Forkhill man failing the recruitment process.
Both men took their cases to a fair employment tribunal which ruled that they had been discriminated against on the grounds of their political beliefs.
However, the former prisoners lost their case due to a clause in the fair employment legislation stating the men were not protected under law because their political opinion was interpreted as supporting violence.
Barrister Karen Quinlivan, arguing on the men’s behalf, said both men fully support the peace process. She stated: “Even when the Troubles were at their height, during the 1970s, there was anti-discrimination protection for those who had renounced violence.
“It is the paramilitary element which prevented [their] appointment. They were less favourably treated because of their paramilitary involvement,” said Quinlivan before adding that someone convicted of a “non-paramilitary offence” could have been appointed to the jobs McConkey and Marks applied for.
The judges hearing the case have reserved their judgement to a later date.

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