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5 January 2016 Edition

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Legal discrimination against former political prisoners must be ended

‘I’m in a legal and employment limbo’

• Republican former POW Robert 'Rab' Henry who is pursuing a legal case challenging the Guidelines for Employment with Director of Coiste na nIarchimí Michael Culbert

‘I find it grossly unreasonable that I would lose this job over a conviction that occurred over a quarter of a century ago’

LEGAL DISCRIMINATION against former political prisoners must be ended, the Director of Coiste na nIarchimí, the republican ex-prisoners’ support group, has said.

Michael Culbert made his call after it emerged that west Belfast man Robert ‘Rab’ Henry was left in “legal and employment limbo” after he was told he was unsuitable for a maintenance job in the Great Northern Tower in Belfast city centre.

Rab, who was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, applied for a job with Aramark, a private company contracted to carry out office maintenance in the building which houses the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

Rab was given the job within hours of completing the interview. However, it wasn’t until he was actually in the post that he was informed he was required to complete an AccessNI check as the building and the CMS come under the Civil Service and the authority of the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP).

At no time either during the application or interview was Rab Henry aware that he would be required to undergo an AccessNI check, especially as the job was office maintenance and he had no contact with the public or direct involvement with the work of the CMS.

In fact, when he sent off the AccessNI form he told his manager of his convictions and her view was that ‘it shouldn’t be a problem’. Yet it was a problem for the DFP who carried out a Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) check and told Aramark that because of the “violent” nature of his charges – he was convicted of “conspiracy to murder” and possession of explosives he was “unsuitable” to work in the CMS office.

Aramark offered the west Belfast man jobs in either Lisburn or Castlereagh but as he doesn’t drive it would be extremely difficult to take up these offers.

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A spokesperson for DFP would only say that “departmental guidelines” were followed.

“I’m in a legal and employment limbo at the minute,” Rab told An Phoblacht. “I was released from prison in 1990 and have not been in any kind of trouble since then. I find it grossly unreasonable that I would lose this job over a conviction that occurred over a quarter of a century ago.”

He added:

“It was a humiliating experience for me as the  manager took my keys and led me out of the building.”

His solicitor, Niall Murphy of KRW Law, confirmed that his firm will be challenging the DFP guidelines “that are being used to deny employment to former political prisoners”.

Commenting on the case, Michael Culbert, who accompanied Rab Henry to a meeting with Aramark said:

“The Good Friday Agreement and the signatories to it, including the British Government, recognised the political nature of the convictions of those prisoners released under its terms.

“However, the wider issue for society is that those former political prisoners should be included as part of the legacy narrative of the conflict and have their records expunged.

“This will open the way for former prisoners to enjoy the equal citizenship denied to them when they are refused employment, refused the right to adopt or foster children, refused insurance for their cars and homes as well as the right to travel.”

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