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6 January 2013 Edition

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The conflict and ‘Aftermath’

Ex-prisoner Laurence McKeown on an innovative arts project that looks at the experiences of victims/survivors

• Laurence McKeown with the Irish Ambassador to Italy, Pat Hennessy, at the launch of Laurence’s documentary film ‘Life as an Interface’ at the Rome Irish Film Festa on 6 December

‘For those who lived through that experience of conflict, or had to flee from it, the scars they carry are all too real and ever-present’

LAURENCE McKEOWN, former republican prisoner and hunger striker, is well-known for his artistic works regarding the prison experience and he continues to use the arts to deal with contemporary political and social issues.

Laurence is currently Co-ordinator of the ‘Aftermath’ project in County Louth which looks at the experiences of victims/survivors and those displaced by the conflict.

He also recently organised a series of film screenings and discussions in the County Museum in Dundalk entitled ‘From Prisons to Peace-Building: The Role of Former Political Prisoners and the Challenges and Successes of Dealing with the Past.’

He spoke to An Phoblacht about what he is hoping to achieve in the ‘Aftermath’ project.

“WHAT I am attempting to do is use various elements of the arts — film, photography, audio recordings and possibly drama to tell the human cost of the conflict in County Louth and the Newry & Mourne District Council area. Once you remove the physical manifestations of conflict following peace negotiations there is often little left to show there ever was a conflict; but for those who lived through that experience, or had to flee from it, the scars they carry are all too real and ever-present. Regardless of what side they took in the conflict, or none, they now must make sense out of what happened and where they go from here.

“Some can feel left behind by political developments or the speed of those developments, and often all they need is a chance to tell their story. Our aim is to assist that process and the main output of the project will be an exhibition staged in public venues both North and South which in itself will provide an opportunity for further discussion on the issues raised.

“In many respects the area that our project takes in can be seen as a microcosm of the conflict in general. There are those who have been injured or killed by various armed groups and also a large number of people displaced by the conflict who have settled in County Louth. In more recent times, the county has received refugees from further afield, those displaced by conflicts in their own lands.

“We held a very successful launch of the ‘Aftermath’ project recently with speakers including Alan Brecknell, whose father was killed in Silverbridge in a loyalist/British forces attack; Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the IRA bomb on the Shankill Road; Margaret Urwin, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the victims and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; Dr Pauline Conroy, who has written extensively on the experiences of those displaced by conflict; and Ali Dennehy, Director of Protection and Training with The Integration Centre, Dublin.

aftermath-end• Jennifer Green (Sinn Féin Chair of Dundalk Town Council) helps launch the ‘Aftermath’ project with Jimmy Sharkey and Jimmy Fox (nephews of Seamus Ludlow, killed by loyalist/British forces in May 1976), and Laurence McKeown

“The film screenings and discussions were organised to provide an opportunity for former political prisoners, both republican and loyalist, to tell how they and others are dealing with the legacy of the conflict. The themes covered included the restoration of the Long Kesh prison site and the anxieties that throws up for the Protestant/unionist community living in the area; policing; dealing with the past; victims/survivors; reconciliation; the role of the media; and work on the interfaces. Films I wrote and directed included Life as an Interface, When the Summit is Shrouded in Mist, and Day of Private Reflection. Other films screened were Five Minutes of Heaven and Blanketmen. Speakers included Adie Bird, former loyalist (UDA) prisoner and chair of the local community group at the site of the former Long Kesh prison; Roger McCallum, a former RUC and PSNI officer; Pat Sheehan, former republican prisoner and hunger striker, currently Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Policing Board; Kate Turner, Director of Healing Through Remembering; Seán Montgomery, former republican prisoner and community and youth worker; Callie Persic who works in economic and spatial regeneration in West Belfast; Peter Heathwood, member of the NI Victims Forum; and Declan Keeney, documentary film-maker and academic based in the School of Film Studies, Queen’s University Belfast.”

The ‘Aftermath’ project is delivered by Diversity Challenges in partnership with, The Integration Centre, the County Museum Dundalk, and the Rural Community Network. ‘From Prisons to Peace Building’ is part of the County Louth VEC’s ‘Artist in the Community Programme’. Both projects are supported by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme as awarded by Louth Peace and Reconciliation Partnership.

aftermath-middle• Alan Brecknell and Alan McBride

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