5 November 2009 Edition
Open day brings vital information to ex-POWs
Speakers representing a number of ex-prisoners’ groups from across Belfast outlined areas of work that they are involved in as they challenge the prejudices that former prisoners still face.
It emerged from Saturday’s meeting that a number of insurance companies have refused to honour their policies with republican former prisoners because of the fact that they had spent time in prison.
However, Coiste has spoken to other insurers who are happy to provide insurance cover for ex-POWs.
Former Sinn Féin Councillor Joe Austin also outlined the work of the ‘Still Imprisoned’ project.
Still Imprisoned, which is based in Tar Anall, provides support for republican ex-prisoners and activists and their families who are affected by addiction.
“Addiction is the elephant in the room,” said Austin.
“Many of our people suffer from issues as a direct result of the trauma they suffered during the conflict, which includes alcoholism, drug dependency, financial management problems, depression and anxiety. These people need and deserve the support of their comrades and the Still Imprisoned project is there to help.”
Jim McVeigh who heads up Coiste’s advocacy and research project, described how Coiste is bringing to the fore issues around the treatment of prisoners during their arrest and conviction and their treatment while in jail.
“Some of the issues that we are focusing on concern the convictions of republicans in Diplock courts, particularly the treatment of young people.”
McVeigh highlighted the case of Derryman Charlie McMenamin, whose conviction was re-examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and overturned.
He urged anyone, who was 17 or under to bring their case to the CCRC.
Coiste’s Youth Development worker, Danny Murphy, made an informative presentation around the work he is involved in.
“Our youth development strategy is designed to meet the specifically-identified needs of the children and relatives of political former prisoners.
“Our youth provision is aimed at addressing the specific trauma, loss and grief experienced by young people who were affected by the imprisonment of a parent.”
Other areas of work that Coiste and its satellite groups cover were outlined by various speakers, including Agnes Frazer who is based in Tar Isteach in the New Lodge Road area of north Belfast.
Agnes outlined the breadth of work that she carries out to ensure that the welfare rights of former prisoners are not neglected and that they are not discriminated against.
Speaking to An Phoblacht after the information day, Michael Culbert, Director of Coiste, described the day as a huge success.
“We wanted to ensure that those attending this event went away with the knowledge that Coiste is working in a multi-faceted way to ensure that the welfare of former POWs is looked after.
“As many as 18,000 people from the nationalist community spent time in prison. We are out to ensure that the social, economic, legal and societal barriers faced by former POWs and their families are broken down.
“Former prisoners still face a range of obstacles and discrimination in their daily lives and Coiste is determined to break these obstacles down.”