20 February 2003 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Coiste na n-Iarchimí launches major new initiative

Coiste na n-Iarchimí, the umbrella organisation for republican ex-prisoner self-help groups throughout Ireland, officially launched its major new Processes of Nation Building (PNB) initiative on Thursday 13 February in the Linenhall Library, Belfast. The organisation plans a series of engagements with various groups throughout Ireland, including the Protestant community North and South; the Unionist community in the North; all churches; political parties in the 26 Counties; the trade union movement, women, youth and the business community. They will also engage with other nationalists and republicans, North and South.

Mike Ritchie, Director of Coiste said that "republican ex-prisoners have been centrally involved in building the peace process. This initiative sees them taking their engagement a significant step further. Processes of Nation Building will ask the question: what type of Ireland do we want to see? Through a programme of research and outreach we will engage with key sectors in Irish society; we will reflect upon and investigate divisions and opportunities for building a nation rooted in a respect for diversity and commitment to justice and peace."

"There is no doubt the process will involve a difficult and stimulating journey but it is a journey that must be undertaken. At its heart is a process of genuine engagement. We want to listen and learn as well as have our say. Our groups draw on the experience of 100,000 years of imprisonment and we have been an important constituency within the peace process. Processes of Nation Building is our next step in the search for full and equal citizenship for both ourselves and all other groups in Irish society."

Raymond McCartney, ex-hunger striker and chairperson of Coiste welcomed the large gathering and described the programme as innovative, challenging and comprehensive. Ella O'Dwyer from Tipperary, who spent 14 years in prisons in England and the north, currently works for Coiste from their Dublin office. She described the work of Coiste from its formation and outlined how an important element of its activities in recent years has been engaging with people from other communities or who very much regarded republicans as the enemy. "Usually the invitation to meet with these people came from them or other organisations. Now Coiste and republican ex-prisoners are taking the initiative and becoming proactive in this regard."

Fiona Flood of the Dublin Foreign Affairs Department, which funds Ella's post through its Peace and Reconciliation Fund, praised Coiste for the work it has done to "raise awareness of specific issues of importance to ex-prisoners and in supporting the many groups that offer concrete support services on the ground". She said the Processes of Nation building project is a uniquely challenging one but added: "The republican movement has been known to undertake difficult yet stimulating journeys in the past, and I am sure the women and men of Coiste will prove no less able to rise to the challenge of this one. I wish you well on your journey".

Harold Good of the Methodist Church, and a well-known face in the north, took up the theme of 'journey', which he said he had seen frequent reference to in the literature describing the PNB project. He thought it was a wonderful word and a very apt one as "we are all on a journey and hopefully on a path together". He commended the Coiste for taking on the project and, reading directly from the PNB leaflet, he asked who could disagree with the sentiments contained in it, "building relationships, celebrating diversity, promoting change"?

Alex Maskey, Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast, recalled the time he had gone into Long Kesh shortly after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement as part of a delegation comprising of Sinn Féin personnel - many of themselves ex-prisoners - and leading members of the ANC. "It was a very emotional moment for me as I think it was for everyone else that day. It was the first time all republican prisoners from jails in the north had been brought together, male and female, the first time people had seen one another for many years." Alex described the PNB programme as another significant initiative by republican ex-prisoners and hoped that similar type initiatives would emerge on the loyalist side. "But I fear that they seem to be moving away from dialogue which is a cause for concern."

Rosie McCorley and Laurence McKeown, ex-prisoners and staff of the PNB programme, described the event as a major success, given the range of people who had attended from various sectors of the community. They look forward to a challenging period ahead.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1