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17 December 1998 Edition

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Challenging the myths

Coiste Na nIarchimi, an umbrella group for republican ex-prisoners held its first national conference in Belfast last Saturday.

Mike Ritchie, one of the two full time workers said, ``there are over 18 local ex-prisoners groups that appeared spontaneously in response to the needs of Republican ex-prisoners. The umbrella group aims to co-ordinate that effort, to stop duplication and to rationalise the approach to funding.''

Ritchie said there was also a need to assist the work of Tar Anall, the oldest and most established service provider. He said: ``Tar Anall is in a position to pass on skills to newer groups, which will also encourage the even development of services especially where its expertise means it is over burdened with work.''

Coiste Na nIarchimi aims to co-ordinate the representation of the interests of Republican ex-prisoners to the media, statutory and government agencies. ``The time is right for a more structured approach,'' Ritchie said.

Ritchie and Laurence McKeown, the second full time worker, stressed that ``the public misconceptions and simplistic discourse of prisoner/bad and victim/good had to be challenged''. They said with anywhere up to ``15,000 ex-prisoners and their families, a constituency of 50,000 people, the myths have to be challenged if there is to be the full integration of that community into the mainstream''.

They also pledged to be at the forefront of the battle to end the discrimination that former political prisoners face.

In its charter, Coiste Na nIarchimi firmly rooted itself in the self-help and mutual aid tradition, and co-operation, negotiation, consultation and equal and parallel development.
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