The North: Fair Play Needed for Ex-Prisoners

on Thursday, 31 July 2003. Posted in Issue 36 Cherishing our Old Folk, 1999

December 1999


Whatever people feel about early prisoner release in Northern Ireland, most people will agree that it is counter-productive to turn former paramilitary prisoners into an embittered and marginalised group through bureaucratic persecution. Yet there is every danger of this happening, as former paramilitaries are being treated in law the same as any other prisoners, though most people would agree that this is simply not appropriate. Indeed, it is questionable whether most of the sanctions listed below should be applied to any ex-prisoner, given that they are considered to have paid their debt to society.


In Northern Ireland, former prisoners (republican and loyalist), and their families, are currently faced with the following restrictions (some of these also apply in the South):

· They or their immediate families (sometimes extending to nephews and nieces) cannot get jobs in the public service · They are not entitled to criminal injuries or criminal damage compensation if they or their properties are subject to attack. In the case of property damage their business partners are not entitled to compensation either. · They or their spouses may not be employed as childminders. · They may not adopt or foster children (even though wives may have been separated from their husbands during their reproductive years). · They are required to give details of their convictions when applying for insurance or mortgages, and it is not illegal to discriminate against them on the basis of these. · They are blocked from getting taxi or hackney licences, and can only have this over-ruled on application to the High Court. · They are not entitled to pensions (contributory or non-contributory) in respect of the years they spent in prison.

With the setting up of cross-border bodies and the wider Council for these islands, the Irish government has a good opportunity to press for the end of these ridiculous anomalies, which mostly arise from Westminster legislation.

The government should also seek to change the current practice whereby former political prisoners are still routinely refused visas to visit the U.S., even for the purpose of visiting family members.

The government should also press the authorities in the North to seek for the inclusion in the Peace 2 European initiative of provision for funding in relation to ex-prisoners and victims, which remarkably it does not cover.

We tend to think that law defines what crime is. This makes sense because contemporary legal codes are concerned with marking out the territory where conduct is permissible by specifying the conduct that is outlawed. Yet the earliest bodies of law – consider for example, the Torah or Hammurabi’s Code – are at least as committed to articulating the good as proscribing the bad... Read full editorial

Working Notes is a journal published by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice. The journal focuses on social, economic and theological analysis of Irish society. It has been produced since 1987.