15 July 1999 Edition
Ex-POW support groups gear up
In November 1998, Coiste na n-Iarchimí was established as the umbrella organisation to co-ordinate the activities of groups and individuals working with republican ex-prisoners and their families. Mike Ritchie was appointed as the Project Manager and Laurence McKeown as the development worker. An office was established for the Coiste on the Falls Road shortly afterwards. As well as providing services to republican ex-prisoners and their families, the role of the Coiste is to develop policy positions on a number of concerns affecting the republican ex-prisoner community.
On 30 June - 1 July 1999, the Coiste held a very successful residential in Tí Chulainn, Mullaghbawn in South Armagh. The main purpose of the residential was to assess the work of the Coiste since its establishment and to plan for the years ahead. The over-riding theme was: Where do we want to be in three to five years time and what do we have to do to get there?
Present at the residential were representatives from the 22 groups throughout Ireland currently affiliated to the Coiste. Gerry Hanratty and Donald Gannon from Portlaoise Prison were also in attendance. Pádraig Wilson and Joe Brennan from Long Kesh had requested parole to attend the residential but the NIO refused permission. In all, over 30 people participated in the residential facilitated by Joanna McMinn, who has a long history of working with republican prisoners in all of the prisons in Ireland.
The proceedings were opened by Raymond McCartney, the chairperson of Coiste, followed by a review of the work carried out by the Coiste to date, presented by Mike Ritchie the project manager. Laurence McKeown, the Coiste development worker, then placed the work of the Coiste in the broader political arena, drawing similarities between the work conducted by the Coiste and the struggle waged within the prisons against criminalisation. Both Mike and Laurence agreed that much had been achieved in the short time since they took up their posts but that much still remained to be done if the Coiste was to be as inclusive as possible of the entire republican ex-prisoner community.
Although Mike and Laurence offered a critical assessment of the Coiste's work to date, they also highlighted significant achievements. Currently, a Coiste office with three workers is being established in Dublin which will service the 26 Counties (see advert). This will allow the Coiste to broaden its scope and establish itself in the south of the country, especially in counties where small pockets of republican ex-prisoners exist, isolated from the broader ex-prisoner community. This new development adds to the groups which already exist in the south of the country but which are confined to the border counties of Louth, Monaghan and Donegal.
Recently, the Coiste secured funding for the creation of an economic development unit that will look at issues of economic sustainability for the organisation and its affiliated groups and is also now establishing a counselling service in north Belfast. This will complement the excellent work already carried out in this important field by Tar Anall, the first of the republican ex-prisoner self-help groups to be established in 1995. A programme of political education and consciousness-raising will shortly begin which will draw heavily on the core principles underlying the informal educational systems created within the prisons. These are but some of the developments that the Coiste has already initiated.
In Laurence's address to the participants he said that whilst it was crucial that the Coiste build an effective, efficient organisation to work on behalf of all republican former prisoners, it was important to keep in mind at all times that they were not just providing a service to people. They were engaged in a struggle - a struggle that goes back to the attempts to criminalise republican prisoners. Despite that battle having been won in the prisons and regardless of the fact that prisoners were being released early as part of a political process, there nevertheless remained the legislation that placed political ex-prisoners in the same category as ordinary offenders. There were also ongoing attempts by various sections of the media and establishment to lay the entire blame for the conflict on republican prisoners. For that reason, Laurence said, the Coiste should be very clear about the political campaigning and lobbying role it must play if it is to seriously combat these agendas and to achieve the radical change in legislation necessary. We wish them every success in their endeavours.
Development work with republican ex-prisoners
Coiste na n-Iarchimí is establishing an office in Dublin to provide services to republican ex-prisoners. This office will provide a focus for integration for released prisoners and provide liaison with a national network of ex-prisoners. They are seeking applications for three posts:
This post will have responsibility for: establishing support structures for ex-prisoners throughout the 26 counties; liaison with statutory bodies; managing other staff; and linking into other Coiste structures. The successful candidate will have 2 years experience of project co-ordination and work with issues related to political prisoners/ex-prisoners.
2.. Outreach worker
As part of our commitment to ensuring that services are available throughout Ireland, the successful applicant will have responsibility for: making contact with former prisoners in the southern half of the island; conducting a needs assessment of these contacts; and establishing services similar to those in other parts of the country. The successful candidate will have 2 years experience of work with issues related to political prisoners/ex-prisoners.
The successful candidate will provide administrative support and operate administrative and financial systems in a busy office. 2 years experience of administrative duties and the operation of administrative and financial systems is essential.
For job descriptions and person specifications, please contact:
Coiste na n-Iarchimí, c/o 275-277 Falls Road, Belfast BT12 6FD. Telephone from Republic of Ireland (08 01232) 200770, from the north of Ireland (01232) 200770.
Closing dates for receipt of completed c.v. and letter of application: Friday ? July.
This project is supported by the European Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation through NIVT and ADM/CPA