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14 January 1999 Edition

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New group to represent ex-POWs

A new umbrella organisation representing 17 republican ex-prisoners groups from ten counties is to be launched in Belfast next Tuesday.

``Republican ex-prisoners are now organised and determined to play a full role in the future of their communities,'' said Mike Ritchie, the Project Manager of the new organisation, Coiste na n-Iarchimí (Ex-prisoners Committee).

``The confidence and resourcefulness of republican prisoners over the past three decades is well known and they will contribute a lot to the development of our society,'' he said. ``Over 15,000 republicans passed through the jails and our group will help channel their energy and commitment into the new political situation. That new situation was brought about with the help of prisoners and the ex-prisoners community who have been to the fore in supporting the peace process. Now they are ready to assist in building justice and the type of society which the peace process demands in Ireland.''

The 17 groups represented by the Coiste currently employ fifty full-time workers providing services, training and help for former prisoners and their families. More groups are planned. The groups established Coiste na n-Iarchimí in order to co-ordinate and streamline their activities.

As well as providing a range of services the Coiste will be developing policy positions on a number of concerns affecting the republican ex-prisoner community. These include: employment difficulties facing ex-prisoners; freedom of movement for ex-prisoners and those sought by the police for questioning; and the need for an amnesty for those convicted as a result of the conflict.

Dr Laurence McKeown, Coiste na n-Iarchimí's Development Worker and himself an ex-prisoner who spent 16 years in Long Kesh, including 70 days on hunger strike in 1981, said: ``The Coiste is a vital step in the development of the ex-prisoners community and it has the clear potential to become an important element in Ireland's post-Agreement society. Ex-prisoners provide leadership in many areas and in many local communities and they are determined to use their talents for the good of those communities.''

Coiste na n-Iarchimí will be launched next Tuesday by ex-prisoner and Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast.
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