13th June, 1995
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
Nuala Kelly (Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas)
Martie Rafferty (Quaker Prison Service)
Ronnie McCartney (former republican prisoner)
Marty Snoddon (former loyalist prisoner)
Chaired by Hon. Judge Catherine McGuinness (Chairperson, Forum for Peace and Reconciliation)
Introduction: Judge Catherine McGuinness – “The work of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation”
Meath Peace Group Symposium on Prisoners and their Families:
Summary of main points from speakers
1. Nuala Kelly
2. Martie Rafferty
3. Ronnie McCartney
4. Marty Snoddon
Questions and comments ……..
INTRODUCTION: Judge Catherine McGuinness – “The Work of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation”
Judge Catherine McGuinness said she was delighted to accept the invitation of the Meath Peace Group to come and speak on the work of the Forum and to chair the ensuing discussion on prisoners. She said that one of the casualties of the last 25 years was that people in the Republic know so little about Northern Ireland and there has been so little contact. “Increased North-South contact at all levels could play a big part in reinforcing the peace process”, she said, and it was very important that groups should provide a forum where people could learn more about the situation. Judge McGuinness commended the work of the Meath Peace Group for its efforts in building links with the Interaction Group from Craigavon, Co. Armagh and other groups in Northern Ireland. “The Group’s work in promoting public awareness of Northern Ireland through its meetings addressed by Northern speakers and its programme of school visits, provides a model for greater community involvement in the building of understanding and trust between different traditions in Ireland”, she said.
The Forum’s agenda: “Many of the issues explored by the Meath Peace Group – human rights, justice, the role of community relations, constitutional issues, and the perspective of victims of violence – have been part of the Forum’s agenda since it was established in October last”, continued Judge McGuinness. “While the Forum cannot negotiate a political settlement, it has undertaken a systematic examination of many of the central issues arising out of the peace process, including constitutional questions, North-South structures, the economic consequences of peace, policing, prisoners, and equality of treatment.”
North-South contacts: “Involvement in the Forum has brought it home to me what a lot of co-operation already exists, for example in the economic, cultural and sporting fields. Peace provides a tremendous opportunity for developing the kind of relations that ought to prevail on an island the size of Ireland, whether it be in connection with business, farming, tourism or everyday contact between individuals or community groups. North-South contacts are already burgeoning in a climate of peace and their further development deserves to be encouraged, both for the direct advantages this will bring and in terms of an incentive and support for broader political dialogue,” Judge McGuinness said.
“For too long the two main traditions have been characterised by a comparative lack of contact with each other. This has tended to amplify their differences and hinder prospects for accommodation between them. As a result, many people here have lived their lives with all too little direct experience of Northern Ireland. For this reason, the character of the Northern Unionist tradition is inadequately appreciated here while, for their part, many unionists appear to harbour genuine apprehensions and misconceptions about the South. These inadequacies of understanding constitute a very real obstacle to reconciliation which we must acknowledge and seek to remedy.”
Obstacles to reconciliation: As part of its bid for greater understanding between North and South, the Forum has an Expert Group examining obstacles in the South to reconciliation, Judge McGuinness explained. In addition, the Forum had commissioned research into the history of the Protestant population in the South. “Conscious of the need for a better understanding of their tradition, we are making every effort to foster dialogue with unionists. While unionist politicians have not yet taken up the invitation to attend the Forum, individuals, community groups, business, farming and tourism interests have come to express their interest in improved North-South co-operation. Moreover, the very impressive presentations by the three main Protestant churches have given the Forum a real insight into thinking within their communities,” the Forum chairperson said.
Ongoing work of the Forum: Judge McGuinness outlined the work of the Forum to date, the debates and discussions and the submissions received and heard. Also, valuable research had been commissioned into various aspects of the problem – the economic results of peace, the treatment of minorities in other countries and research into a Bill of Rights that could apply both North and South. Publications of the contributions, submissions and research were planned.
Judge McGuinness mentioned the criticisms raised when the Forum was set up – that it would be just another “talking shop” and that it was simply designed to “bring Sinn Fein in from the cold”. Judge McGuinness agreed that it was a talking shop – but “that is what democracy means”, she said. As for bringing Sinn Fein in from the cold, that was important, she said, and Sinn Fein have played a major role in the work of the Forum. In addition, the social interaction at the Forum has been good and overall she believed that the Forum is performing a major purpose and its work will assist in the solution of the problem.
MEATH PEACE GROUP SYMPOSIUM ON “PRISONERS AND THEIR FAMILIES”:
Summaries of main points made by speakers:
Nuala Kelly (ICPO) outlined the problems encountered by Irish prisoners in foreign jails, most of whom are “non-political”, and explained the work of the ICPO in the context of emigration and issues that concern prisoners abroad and their families in Ireland. Turning to specific issues relevant to the peace process, such as transfer, release and amnesties, she stated that there is a general acceptance of the centrality of prisoners to the peace process and a recognition of the role they played prior to the calling of the ceasefires. She emphasised the need to provide strong incentives to occupy people previously engaged in military conflict, and the need to think positively, be inclusive and open about embracing new ideas, such as release and pilot schemes which require risk taking.
Martie Rafferty (Quaker Prison Service) explained the services provided by her group at the Maze and Maghaberry prisons, particularly the visitor centres. Re release of prisoners she said this was a very emotive issue and a very complex one. Many people didn’t like the use of the word “political” but the fact is that the majority of prisoners are there for political reasons, she said. There was the problem of consistency, and whether it was right that prisoners who were only sentenced a year ago should be released at the same time as those who had served 16-20 years. She said we had to consider the victims and play our part in contributing to the healing process. But the prisoners and their families were victims also, she said, and we had all some responsibility for what had happened. If we really want peace, she said, we must be willing to work for it and to work with understanding and patience. People in prison have often changed more than many and have a real appreciation of the costs, she said. “We should see released political prisoners as a resource, they can offer an awful lot. Let’s enable them to do so and let’s not be frightened of it”.
The ex-prisoners, Ronnie McCartney (republican) and Marty Snodden (loyalist), talked about their prison experiences and the community work they were involved in since coming out of prison, and the problems encountered generally by ex-prisoners on release, particularly unemployment. They called for the release of all politically-motivated prisoners as being crucial to the peace process and stressed the important role played by the prisoners in bringing about the ceasefires. “We have to engage in a healing process, and prisoners are part of that process, whether people like it or not.”
Addresses of speakers:
1. Nuala Kelly (Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas)
Ms Kelly said she would be covering 3 main areas in her contribution:
1. The work of ICPO in the context of emigration and issues that concern prisoners abroad and their families in Ireland.
2. General points about the prison situation in Ireland.
3. Specific issues of relevance to the current peace process including transfer, release and amnesties.
She began by complimenting “the courage and foresight” of the Meath Peace Group and of those who attend and participate in the sessions on justice and peace. “When I asked one of the organisers yesterday why you were holding these meetings, she said ‘well we are interested in the North; we always had a position that we were against violence and that was it. We didn’t know much more. But now we are learning a lot from the contributors’ ideas and they are learning from us also.’ It struck me forcibly as a Northerner, how influential the media and censorship laws had been over the past 25 years in reducing such a serious situation to a simple slogan that people – especially politicians – felt safe behind, “I am against violence”. It meant nothing and it meant everything. It was code!
“Perhaps one of the more refreshing things that has happened in the past year has been that “code” no longer suffices. People want to know for themselves, want to demystify situations and to debunk the many myths that exist about life and people North and South.
“There is still a long way to go but groups like this are crucial to the outcome of what we want to achieve on this island – whatever the political structures we devise – in the long term. Openness, accountability and truth are vital to understanding; small steps are the key.”
Ms Kelly said that recent debates in the Republic about prisoners, prison building, bail, and so on have done “anything but debunk myths and reveal truth.” In the interest of financial rectitude and international regulatory mechanisms, she said, “policies” are formulated in the party political arena where whatever is opportune becomes policy. “Thus, one minute a new women’s prison is necessary and the next, due to cutbacks, the same politicians question whether prison is the way to deal with female crime at all – having ignored the international research and advice to this effect in the first instance.” It was time, she said, for well-thought out policies with long term impact rather than “Quick fit” solutions.
“We have a real problem with crime; research shows a high correlation between unemployment and crime, between physical and sexual abuse and youth crime. Fear is growing yet we do not deal with the obvious causes”, she said.
1. The work of the ICPO: Ms Kelly said that the work of the ICPO throughout the world has been an attempt to deal with causes as well as introduce some practical policy measures to help Irish prisoners abroad. ICPO is a sub-section of the Bishops’ Commission for Emigrants and was set up 10 years ago to care for the needs of all Irish prisoners throughout the world and their families in Ireland, regardless of faith or offence. Their work must be seen in the context of 2 factors :
• increasing use of imprisonment throughout the world, particularly in Europe
Emigration: “Ireland has one of the highest rates of emigration in the EU. Many survive the experience and prosper while others don’t. The vulnerable frequently end up in prison. Just yesterday, to give some examples of the kind of cases we deal with, we got an Irish missionary to visit a 45-year old man with a serious heart condition in prison in Morocco; we advocated a transfer from Jersey to England for a prisoner so that his mother could visit; we met the mother of a young man imprisoned in England who is dying of AIDS but who cannot get a transfer or humanitarian release; we prepared a briefing on 8 republican prisoners in England – some of them the longest serving in connection with the Anglo-Irish conflict; we helped a mother to ensure her son’s fare home is paid prior to his release from a Catalonian prison and we attended the inquest of a prisoner found dead in his cell in a London prison just before Christmas. We continue to work with his family to seek an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death.
The other aspects of our work involve the preparation and dissemination of information, research and lobbying on issues relevant to prisoners overseas and their families and the pursuit of human rights for prisoners, refugees and migrants.
Why a service for prisoners overseas? “This can only be understood in the context of emigration. We have proportionately more Irish-born prisoners abroad than in Ireland itself – North or South. In England and Wales alone – over 1, 000 Irish-born. Of these there are now approximately only 35 Republican prisoners. ICPO works for these prisoners too and their families. The vast bulk of our work is for what are called “ordinary” prisoners. But they have suffered too as a consequence of the conflict between Ireland and Britain. General issues of concern to us are racism in prisons and criminal justice systems, poor prison conditions, lengthy pre-trial detention (elsewhere in Europe also), lack of bail, transfer, deportations, miscarriages of justice, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and deaths in prison.
2. General points about the criminal justice/prison system:
“We need to see prisoners and their families as part of us and our communities. although today we tend to focus particularly on Loyalist and Republican prisoners in Northern Ireland, we cannot ignore the issues of “ordinary” prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families either, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. While they will have very different needs they also share some common experiences. Many of them are victims of society’s failures to solve social and economic problems.
“The current peace process offers an opportunity to look at new ways of working and to develop new initiatives in relation to crime prevention and criminal justice matters in general and particularly in relation to prison matters. At the heart of any agenda should be the need to facilitate the integration of ex-prisoners, and those at risk of offending, into our community.
“Issues of social justice, poverty and social exclusion should form the context for a general review of crime and crime prevention. The provision of appropriate services for prisoners, their families, the victims of crime, humane and effective sentence and prison management, as well as the development of a range of alternatives to custody, are some of the matters which must be addressed. Most importantly, the involvement of the recipients of services as well as a range of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and statutory agencies is crucial to the direction of long term stability, justice and peace.
“Services must be co-ordinated and targeted at the complexity and multiple nature of the problems (ranging from housing, training and employment, to social and personal needs) facing prisoners and their families – especially those in the most marginalised and alienated sections of our communities.
“Community organisations should be encouraged as part of a bottom-up process of change. Clear policy objectives are needed on the treatment, detention and release of offenders, especially in relation to community-based programmes. While not wanting to be disingenuous about the need for resources for Republican and Loyalist prisoners and their families, new programmes should be developed with other ex-prisoners and their families in mind also. All of these, however, should respect individual choice and privacy. Not every prisoner will want re-integration; of those who do, some will want locally based and controlled services or centres; others may prefer more centralised options and yet others may wish to go abroad.
“It is time to place the issues of ex-prisoners and their families on the agenda of government – especially in the Republic – and in an integrated fashion so that planned and sustainable initiatives can carry us through the current difficult years of the peace process and during the unsettling but hopeful period thereafter.
3. Specific issues of relevance to the current peace process including transfer, release and amnesties:
“Most of the questions we raised in our Submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation on 20th January 1995 remain central to considerations of furthering peace and justice in Ireland. We also offered suggestions for further specific and practical work.
“By now there is general acceptance of the centrality of prisoners to the peace process and a recognition of the role they played within their respective organisations prior to the calling of ceasefires.
“The Forum [for Peace and Reconciliation] session on the full participation of ex-prisoners in social and economic reconstruction highlighted in particular the level of acceptance of the fact that discussion about release and regime matters are crucial also to progress now. In recognition of this, our organisations suggested that the Forum should send a small delegation into the prisons to meet prisoners from all persuasions. It would give the Forum an opportunity to hear their views directly. In spite of recent difficulties in the prisons this might still be a useful learning exercise about the concerns of both Loyalist and Republican prisoners.
“The focus tonight is not going to be totally on release or prison regime matters although, indirectly, both of these are relevant to, and will impinge on, the discussion. Release and regime matters are crucial to the peace process and should not be used as a political football to endanger the interests of justice. Discussion of release or amnesty, however it is labelled, is a very complex area; it must be coupled with discussions on the right to truth, young people in prison, concern for victims and the requirements of justice.
“NIACRO [N.I. Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders] has completed and published its research on the international experience of the release and reintegration of politically-motivated prisoners. Their report examines the possible release mechanisms which exist in current law and practice. They conclude that the early release of politically-motivated prisoners is crucial to any peace process which follows a violent political conflict. They do not minise the legal, philosophical or political difficulties involved in a consideration of early release. They examine possible conflicts of interest, with the rule of law, with the possibility of re-offending, the views of victims and problems of reintegration. But overall, they conclude that “any legal, technical or administrative factors which are held up as obstacles in the way of early release of politically-motivated offenders are fundamentally obfuscatory. If the political will exists, the means to accomplish it exist within the legal and administrative paradigms of our criminal justice system”. In fact, prisoner releases can be used as a positive way of encouraging peace and reconciliation.”
Educational Trust: “NIACRO continues its work on the establishment of an Educational Trust for ex-prisoners. A report on the feasibility and the format of the Trust will be available in June. It is hoped that the Trust will be established by the Autumn.
Funding: “NIACRO are also investigating sources of funding to enable them to support projects which will have a substantial degree of self-management by ex-prisoners themselves. There is a need to continue to advise funding channels, bodies and groups, about the special circumstances and needs of those groups. Hopefully the implementation of the European Task Force and the release of monies will make a significant contribution to resourcing the needs of released prisoners and their families. The principles and mechanisms for the delivery of these funds should be fair and open.
“Funding should be made available for preliminary research and technical assistance to enable groups and communities to devise sound research-based (local and international) proposals for effective and durable projects, which will promote social inclusion. This may delay the delivery of monies for projects but could prove an important long term measure in social and economic reconstruction on the ground.
Assisted family visits: “At present in Northern Ireland there is a fairly adequate scheme for assisting families to visit prisoners. In the Republic there is nothing. While individual CWOs have been very helpful to families, under the discretionary allowance which they administer for the Health Boards, the lack of policy in this regard is totally unsatisfactory. In practice it can mean policy by default or that families in severe poverty never get an assisted visit. This needs tobe addressed especially in light of the importance of family contact to resettlement on release.
Family support services: “In N.I. these are highly developed via NIACRO, Quaker Prison Service and Probation, as well as prison welfare groups, political parties and individuals.
“These services include prison visitors’ centres at four of Northern Ireland’s five prisons. The centres provide a range of services for prisoners’ families including creche facilities, refreshments, and information and advice. Other services available in Northern Ireland to prisoners’ families include transport to prisons, childcare services, benefits advice and the establishment and support of prisoner family support groups.
“In the Republic, family support services, with the exception of prison chaplaincy or probation, do not exist. This is an area which will need urgent attention in conjunction with the development of sensitive counselling services accessible by choice by prisoners and families. Such counselling services are already available, for example, through organisations like Relate, but these counselling agencies will have to be made more aware of the specific needs of prisoners’ families and ex-prisoners.
Children: “NIACRO has been carrying out detailed research into the impact of imprisonment on children of prisoners in Northern Ireland. The results will be published in the near future. It is expected that the research will demonstrate the need for the development of counselling services for families to enable them to cope better, both with separation and the eventual re-integration of prisoners with their relatives in the community.
Employment, education and training: “Policy and services need to be developed to ensure that employment and training development programmes recognise the specific needs for resettlement of prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. In the United Kingdom at the present time more than one third of adult males have a criminal record by the time they are 35. Therefore whilst there may be a special problem with respect to re-integration of ex-prisoners in Ireland in the forthcoming period, there is and will continue to be a general need to develop effective and inclusive employment and training programmes for ex-prisoners. Therefore we must ensure that these issues are addressed honestly and inclusively and we must encourage such programmes to accept all our citizens. This will require a special effort of co-ordination and partnership between the State, the private sector and the voluntary sector. This partnership will have to be in the context of building mechanisms for the effective re-integration and re-employment of ex-prisoners into their own communities.
“To quote the UN – “In the west where the facts of liberty and humanism have flourished … there is little excuse for the continued failure to integrate correctional policies including education and employment into the mainstream of national life … we must think of policies to increase the employability and employment of ex-offenders as a continuum … for those who are incarcerated, it [education and training] must counter a negative effect of prisonisation” (Eduardo Vetere, Chief Crime Prevention Officer, The United Nations)
“Also Mary Clarkson of the Institute 1992 of Directors adds – “Employers have a major role to play in preventing offending among young people and also have a support role with older ex-offenders … There is a need for a shift of emphasis within the European Community towards those on the margins of the labout market. Priority must be given to training and possible moves towards harmonisation of legislation on the rehabilitation of offenders.”
“New approaches are needed to promote equal rights and stability, especially for those who have spent long periods in detention in an abnormal environment, to help them re-establish themselves as citizens of the community.
Prisoners in England: “ICPO has been engaged in extensive work in lobbying for improved conditions for Irish prisoners in England and elsewhere. Notable among these prisoners were republican prisoners in HMP Full Sutton, Belmarsh, Whitemoor and Frankland. Their families have suffered considerable upset and physical and mental stress as well as financial loss over a complexity of petty matters brought about by penal policies which have ignored the recommendations of the British Government’s own Woolf, Tumin and Ferrers Reports of the 1990-92 period in relation to transfer, family visits, prison conditions and other related matters. Considerable concern was expressed by ICPO, NIACRO, CAJ, amongst many others, about the problems posed for the peace process if these conditions should continue. We are particularly concerned about the impact of such conditions on their families. Our work on this is ongoing and we prepared a briefing for the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body meeting in Dublin Castle in March and for the Minister for Foreign Affairs in May.
Transfer: “We discussed the question of allowing prisoners serve their sentences nearer the family home in some detail in our submission [to the Forum] on 20th January.
“The situation to date is as follows:
(a) From England to N. Ireland: “The British Government should continue to implement the recommendations of the Ferrers Report which they accepted in 1992. This should include an examination of the obstacles to permanent transfer for all prisoners whose families are in Ireland with a view to relevant legislative amendments, where necessary, to remove differentials. Two more prisoners were transferred to Maghaberry Prison in early March. They were granted permission for a transfer the previous Autumn. Another prisoner has been given permission but not yet transferred. 10 other requests are outstanding at the time of writing. Another prisoner whose mother was very seriously ill, was transferred recently.
“Other issues in relation to transfer to Northern Ireland concern the lack of permanency and the ensuing uncertainty for families, the need to improve transfer for accumulated visits for prisoners whose families request them, and the need for continued support for families.
(b) The Republic – “It is reassuring that the Irish Government has published a Draft Transfer Bill. We hope that amendments can be completed and placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas before any further delay.
“One note of caution – our agencies presented our own Draft Bill to the Minister for Justice in January. The model we urged for implementation recommended that sentences be converted to what would be appropriate in this country for a similar offence. Instead, the Government is proposing that the sentence given in the sentencing country is enforced here. This could lead to complications and to a two-tier prison system where a prisoner sentenced abroad serves longer for a particular offence than a prisoner sentenced in Ireland. As agencies concerned with criminal justice and penal policy in particular, we have already stressed to the British Government in relation to transfers to Northern Ireland the problems created by a 2-tier model. We also suggest that the process of decision-making be open and accountable. Unfettered ministerial discretion is harmful to the interests of justice.
(c) Prisoners from the Republic in England : “Prior to final ratification of the Convention by the Irish Government, prisoners whose families are interested in travelling to the North to visit should be transferred to a prison in N. Ireland. Even upon ratification this should still be considered an option since the Northern prisons are nearer for some families from Northern and Western counties in the Republic.
“This issue is of major importance to families. An ICPO survey showed that of 600 families and prisoners (from the whole island) in the 1988-93 period, 34% of families and 22% of prisoners raised this issue. It is families who suffer most as a result of long journeys to visit prisons or from the breaking of family ties over many years.
(a) “The Prevention of Terrorism Act: Emergency legislation must be removed. The PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was made permanent in 1992. This Act must be abolished as part of the current peace process. It has been ineffective as a deterrent, it has acted as a trawling device on the Irish community in Britain and prevented them engaging in legitimate political work for the needs of a migrant community; the first people arrested under it were the Guildford Four. This case highlights the dangers of such legislation. It has no place in a civil democracy which respects human rights. Exclusion Orders are a blunt and unnecessary instrument. The European Commission supports this view on 2 points of law.
“One family whose arrest under the PTA caused major family loss through death, loss of job and destruction of the family home, had all charges against them dropped at the start of their trial late last year. This was over one and a half years after their arrest and detention! Such experiences of emergency law serve as a hindrance to developing the peace process and also intimidate the Irish immigrant community in Britain.
“A total review of this legislation is urgently requested by many civil liberties organisations including a report by the Civil Liberties Research Unit of King’s College, London – calling for a total review of the legislation. As CAJ [Committee on the Administration of Justice, Belfast] says, ordinary criminal law provides the police with more than adequate powers. The PTA is in breach of international obligations. If people are to respect the rule of law, then we need a thorough and open review of all emergency laws, and of police and policing in Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales.
(b) Deportation: “There is evidence that deportations of prisoners have been increasing on completion of sentence in England. Prisoners have been dispatched penniless to Dublin without advance warning to any agencies. Some have family living in England or have English partners. In the new climate of desired closer co-operation between the two countries, this acts as an irritant and is resented by the Irish community in Britain. It would be desirable that a bilateral approach to this problem is developed. This is also a broader issue which the European Union must address, as similar cases have happened in Spain, France and the USA.
Emigration and deportation: “It is possible that in the short term the current peace process may generate greater unemployment and increased emigration. Therefore individuals, especially ex-prisoners, should be facilitated to leave if they desire, but for those forced to emigrate, proper support, visas and consular services must be delivered. For those living abroad, who fled the conflict and remain illegal immigrants, resident visas must be considered.
Concluding her address, Nuala Kelly said that we need to “think positively, be inclusive and open about embracing new ideas – particularly about release and amnesties, and pilot schemes which require risk-taking; we need to provide strong incentives to occupy people previously engaged in military conflict, be they ex-prisoners or police, who are locked into a particular mind-set in relation to stigmatised groups in society; we need to improve our focus on youth, on family support , and finally be creative in exploring new forms of criminal justice which involve victims, communities and alternatives to custody.”
“Finally I want to thank the Meath Justice and Peace Group for inviting me here today. I hope to learn from the discussion. I also want to thank the families and prisoners and groups with whom ICPO has worked over the years on the ground. Individuals like yourselves in communities, in organisations, and at policy level, have contributed and will continue to contribute to a search for justice, equality and respect.
To conclude I want to quote Teresa McComb. When she was asked to talk about family needs in relation to re-integration and participation of prisoners at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation her words were – “I don’t know, I never let myself think about it. It seems like a dream to speculate.” This is the hardest time; one of uncertainty – for everyone. We all need to change our perspectives but let’s hope that the dreams can be realised. It’s up to us all.”
2. Martie Rafferty (Quaker Prison Service)
Martie Rafferty began by explaining the historical background to Quaker involvement in prison work which had its origins in the support services started to help Quaker prisoners and which had developed over the past 300 years.
Quaker involvement in prison work: “We were formed in England about 1650 and quite early on in our own history an awful lot of Quakers were imprisoned, mainly because we were considered heretics, and because we didn’t observe a lot of the social conventions of the time, or refused to put up soldiers… As a result Quakers formed a network of support for those Quakers and their families [who were imprisoned] …and out of that grew an interest in all other prisoners and prison conditions.”
Violence: “Quakers are pacifists, Ms Rafferty said, and do not justify violence “whether it is violence committed by the State, by someone in legal uniform, or someone of a paramilitary nature. We just don’t accept it on any level. However that is not to say that we can simply condemn violence; like Nuala said, and as you have demonstrated – and I really commend your efforts – it’s not enough to simply sit back and say “that’s wrong!”. You’ve really got to say, “well, what is the root of it? what’s causing it? why are the people doing it?”…In our case it is part of our sense of Christian witness that we would then try to work in some way to remove the causes of violence and to help present people with alternative ways of redressing perceived wrongs.”
Long Kesh Visitors’ Centre: “When internment was introduced, the Quakers set about establishing something at Long Kesh. “At the time nobody was too clear what was happening there; people were interned; there were no facilities at all – the prison wasn’t even equipped to deal with visiting. They had no procedures laid down. People were gathering in just an open car park in all kinds of weather, by the hundreds sometimes, trying to see their relatives, and the prison had no system even for processing visiting. It was an area of great distress but also of quite confrontational flashpoints, and a couple of prison staff were assaulted at the time.” So the Quakers went to the Home Office and obtained permission to set up a centre in a portakabin. “That was in 1972 and it was staffed only by volunteers, because we thought it was very short term … we were thinking weeks really… but, 23 years later we’re still there working away.” Since then they have continued to develop the services needed as identified by the families.
Services at visitors’ centre: “We have become, I think, a permanent feature of prison life in N.I…. We started off just by being a presence, trying to show that somebody cared about the people … but we now have a full centre service where people travelling any distance can have some food. We have a child care service, we give information and advice, we have a whole range of practical services… for example, if people come up to bring clothing to a prisoner and the prison paperwork and documentation isn’t sorted out…. well, instead of going away again… we will take the thing and sort it out through the prison and try and get the paperwork done… So in little practical ways we try to facilitate the visit itself and the family concerned for the prisoner.
“We’ve also developed a counselling service, and a pre-release support programme – where a relative is returning home, perhaps after a very long time, we have group work where the families can reflect on what that means, what it’s like to have a husband coming home after he’s been away for 12 years, what it’s like for a mother or father to have a son coming home – how prison might have changed them, all the fears they might have, how they can help?… In these groups loyalists and republicans would come together … we’ve always had a mixture … the differences fall apart, and they are families trying to do their best to welcome and prepare for people coming home. They share a common experience in all that and are very supportive of each other, and it’s been a tremendous learning experience for me, and a tremendously moving experience sometimes as people share at quite a deep level what the whole thing has meant for them. We also offer, on an individual basis, post-release support.. We have no programme for that, but through the years … sometimes people feel it easier to just refer back to people they know if there’s a problem.
Maghaberry: “In 1988 we extended that service to Maghaberry, we were invited to set up a visitors’ centre when that prison opened.. I was given a full pass, so apart from from working with the families, I work directly with the prisoners as well.”
Quaker Prison Service experience: “Over these 25 years we have built up a fair understanding of what the issues are for the prisoners and their families, and what effects imprisonment does have, and the NIO recognise that and meet with us regularly, and sometimes consult on policy issues… We may be somewhat unique in the North, and I hope I’m right in saying that we have the trust and credibility of republicans, loyalists and the NIO, and that puts us in a position that bears quite a responsibility, because it means we can be a channel for people who would otherwise not meet or listen to each other… ”
“The N.I. Prison Service now directs that visitor centres be provided at every prison; the idea is spreading throughout Great Britain and recently the Canadian prison service expressed an interest in following this example. “I’m quite pleased that the idea has taken root and that people are understanding that when you deal with prisoners the family is an important part of that”.
Release of prisoners: There were 3 words that were really quite emotive in this area, Ms Rafferty said:
1. “Political” – “The Government says we don’t have any political prisoners, so this debate is irrelevant if you accept that there aren’t any political prisoners in the first instance. And that does give them a bit of a difficulty because it’s hard to grant amnesties and its hard to make political decisions when all the time you are declaring that you don’t have any political prisoners.” There is a terrible inconsistency, some would say hypocrisy in this kind of thinking, she said. “Most of the prisoners are there under emergency legislation, virtually all are there in a system that has suspended all jury trials. The review procedure for lifers … is a very political document”, she said. When a prisoner is being considered for release, even if he says he has changed and even if his behaviour indicates he has changed and he is not at risk of re-offending, if the organisation to which he belonged is still active, there has to be concern as to whether he can get caught up in it.
“Now there’s no way that can be translated as anything other than political; that is not at all judging the individual prisoner, and so it is generally understood, it is accepted that these prisoners are political, and it is a bit of a nonsense to say we don’t have political prisoners. People are going to have to come to terms with that; however you may disagree with the motivation, the majority of people are there because our political structures haven’t worked and they are there for political reasons”.
2. Consistency“: When people say ” accepting that the legislation is there, the review procedure could be adapted and people could be released”. But the question arises – “is it right that some prisoners who have served 20 years, 16 years, 15 years and are due to come out should get out at the same time as people sentenced to life only last year for having done something dreadful? she questioned. Prison officials would say there has to be consistency for the whole justice system to make any sense. “I have to admit I personally have some difficulty with that as well, that is an issue we have to look at, it is a very human response. I don’t think the organisations representing political prisoners or the prisoners themselves have a difficulty … they say everybody should be out.”
Lee Clegg case – “This is a man who was sentenced to a life sentence – the normal procedure in N.I. is for someone to be reviewed after 10 years; now I know one young man who was being reviewed at 10 years whom everyone involved – clergymen, right up to the Bishop, and all of us concerned with him – were reasonably sure he was innocent anyhow…. and the answer I got from the NIO was that “it is not the job of the Review Board to retry anyone, we’re only talking about releases… once they’re tried and sentenced all we can do is accept it. So far as we’re concerned this man was convicted and he got a life sentence, and that’s it.” Now it is arguable whether or not somebody like Lee Clegg or another soldier should have been tried, but the fact is he was tried, he was sentenced, he got his conviction, and he’s been reviewed after only 3 years. …
“This kind of inconsistency sows the seed of frustration and anger and mistrust and of a feeling of unfairness”, she said, and she was not saying that Clegg shouldn’t be out. “Consistency is the issue”.
3. “Victims“: “One of the first questions people ask is “what about the victims – you have to consider them” and we do have to consider them… and there is nothing anybody can say about that… people have suffered losses that can never be regained. They will never get back loved ones that have been murdered, they will never restore limbs that have been blown off and there isn’t really anything we can do except to accept that pain and be with them in it and in some way contribute to the healing and help them move forward…
“Who are the victims? “But I would caution you to be wary about classifying simply and neatly into little categories. … Who are the victims? What is a victim? It does of course include those people who have lost relatives, but it also includes prisoners’ families who have lost quite a lot; it also includes prisoners, not only for the treatment they’ve got in prison, but what led them to do that in the first place. Most of the prisoners I’ve spoken to didn’t actually join an organisation for any great worked-out political thinking. That came later. They were mostly responding to a local issue – they’ve either had someone killed themselves or a bomb has gone off in their neighbourhood, or soldiers have come in and wrecked the house, or there’s been general harassment – they’re responding to local, family, community or street affairs and they were responding because they felt nobody else was dealing with it.
“ In a sense we have all been victims, and everyone, all of us, have our story to tell, everyone in the North, whether a perpetrator, or a victim, or whatever, everyone has their story to tell… and in a sense we have all contributed to the violence as well because I think each of us has a responsibility for what goes on in our society, and each of us has a responsibility for the systems and the structures that are in place in our name.”
Responsibility for the peace: “In saying that therefore each of us has a responsibility for the peace and the making of the peace. It’s not just a question of “if the terrorists stop their killing then everything will be ok.” It was never that simple and it’s not that simple. There are real and perceived injustices, real fears, real misunderstandings, real hurts that must be addressed by all of us, and difficult as it may be for some people to take, the prisoners’ issue has to be part of that process.
Compromise: “We will all have to accept some things that we would maybe prefer not to; we will all have to settle for less than we would ideally like but I think that’s the nature of compromise, that’s the nature of trying to see the other side of things. Peace is that important to us and that’s what we have to work at. So I would just raise the question “How important is the peace to you?” “How much are you willing to work for it?” Because it does need total commitment and it does need a lot of hard work, understanding and patience … We have given 25 years of the violence before we decided it wasn’t the way forward and I hope we will give the peace process an equal 25 years before we get frustrated and say this isn’t the way forward.”
Released prisoners as a resource: Ms Rafferty pointed out that people in prison have maybe done more thinking than the population at large in the North, have maybe changed their viewpoint more than many, “have right up front realised what the cost is and what the sacrifice has been…. I actually have seen and heard more forward thinking and more willingness to break the barriers, to go that extra distance, amongst the prisoner population, than I have in some of the more middle class areas where people aren’t confronted with the violence in quite the same way, and I would encourage people to see the prisoners, released political prisoners as a resource. They can offer an awful lot; let’s enable them to do so and let’s not be frightened of it.”
Chair: Judge Catherine McGuinness: “Thank you very much indeed. I’m sure that like myself you all found that not just impressive, but extremely perceptive and thoughtful, and raised a lot of issues for us to think about. I can only say that as a child I recall reading a child-orientated life of Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker penal reformer in her day, and clearly the Quakers have kept on at it very well ever since. I’m very much struck by the questions Martie has put for us, and you will be dealing with them in your questions, but just with regard to legal systems, it is my view that if there is the political will to deal with the prisoner situation, and to deal with early releases, legal mechanisms can be found, and I would agree with both Nuala and Martie that I don’t really think it is the legal position that is so much the problem , as the will to look at it. Strangely enough, for those of us who are old enough to remember, in previous times when there were periods of violence in N.I., say in the ’50s, there were prisoners at that time and when the violence stopped, those prisoners were released by the then Unionist Government. With all the faults and all the difficulties that the Unionist Government had, they were actually quite reasonable about it once there was peace. There wasn’t any great fuss about it, but the back door was opened and they got out. So it is possible and it really is a very central issue, and I would absolutely agree about that.”
3. Ronnie McCartney (former republican prisoner)
Ronnie McCartney explained that he was sentenced in 1975 in England at the age of 21. He was 16 and living on the Falls Road when the Troubles started, and his was an emotional response. Their homes were attacked. “We started off by defending our areas, we built barricades, we ended up joining what you called the “auxiliaries”. The defensive went to offensive after the curfew in 1970 and before you knew it you were involved in an organisation involved in a military conflict.” He explained that he went to England in 1974 and was arrested in 1975. His experiences in prison were brutal for him and his family. While in prison he came in contact with innocent prisoners like “Giuseppi Conlon, the Maguire family, the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six” etc who could not get people to listen to their plight and as a result most of them spent years in prison. “One of the tragedies was that the British Government knew that they were totally innocent of the crimes which they were convicted of – in actual fact they knew the people who actually committed the crimes.. the Balcombe Street Four, they actually made statements admitting the bombings…”
Prisoners: “One of the problems is when you’re talking about the release of prisoners – you know, when people talk about prisoners, they talk about republicans, they talk about loyalists, they have his perception that we’re somehow subhuman or something, but in actual fact we’re very human people – we became involved in something, not because we’re immersed in violence, but because we cared about our communities in one form or another.”
Identity: “Some people would say it’s a religious problem, I would say it’s a political problem – a problem of identity. One of the biggest obstacles that we have to overcome is that problem of identity. The fact of the matter is, when we talk about democracy and we talk about rights and freedom, what we should realise is that every man, every woman, and every child should have the right to believe and practise what they believe – nobody should be barred from what they believe…”
“One of the things that has impressed me since I came out of prison – I’m only out of prison about 6-7 weeks – is the fact that there are groups like this here, the fact that there is the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the fact that there are the Quakers and the ICPO actually focussing people’s minds on the real problems in Northern Ireland. But one of the things I see, as a republican in the North, and one of the biggest fears from the loyalist community in the North, is the problem of here in the South and what has actually happened to the Protestant population here in the South. So I’m pleased to hear that there is going to be some sort of study carried out by the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation to look into that problem, because when we look at the problem in the North, we have to look at all sides.
Healing process: “We have to look at the British side, we have to look at the nationalist side, and we have to look at the loyalist side, and what we actually have to engage in is a healing process, and prisoners are part of that process, whether people like it or not. Most of the prisoners, all of the prisoners that are in prison today, either loyalist or republican, or Lee Clegg, are there not because they were involved in crime, or what they would call crime, they were involved in something they believed in – they were defending their communities, defending their rights, or defending something. So I don’t see any problem in the release of any prisoner – I believe the conflict is over, that the release of prisoners has to come, and it has to come speedy.”
Prisoners in England: “There are some cases in England giving cause for concern – cases such as Paul Norney, Sean Kinsella, Brendan Dowd, Noel Gibson and Stephen [A?]. Paul Norney was 17 years of age when he went into prison; he was convicted of attempted murder. He has now done 20 years in prison. Last year he went for judicial review, and the Lord Chief Justice in England turned round and said that he sees no reason why this young man or these 5 people should be released when their 20 years is served. We’re asking for the release of prisoners now, and one of the problems that is arising within the nationalist areas of Belfast is that they are looking at this case in particular, and the case of the other prisoners who have done 20 years in prison, and what they’re actually saying to themselves is that if we can’t get prisoners released who have served their sentence, and they have served their full 20 years, then how can we get prisoners released who haven’t served their sentence? That situation is a political decision, because all the decisions that affected the prisoners in England… were all political decisions. Before anything could be done within the prison situation in England it always had to be referred to the Home Office Minister. Now I know for a fact that from about 1985, prison governors, Boards of Visitors, bishops etc. were actively campaigning for myself and other people to be transferred home to the North of Ireland, and every time that was cleared, or every time I fulfilled the criteria in order for the transfer, a Home Office Minister stepped in and said “No” ..
“… They would turn round and say that your offence was so serious that you were undeserving of public sympathy. If we were to accept that attitude now – we would decide “no, these prisoners have committed heinous crimes… and they shouldn’t be released”, then I feel you are going to alienate the level of feeling that is in the North at the minute. I came out last year on parole – I was 19 years in prison before I actually got parole – and when I came out, it was like a big open prison to be quite honest with you. I looked at West Belfast, and I seen this big ring of steel – during the day you had all the probation officers coming in doing their work, and at 5 o’clock at night they’d go home; they’d go up the Malone Road, they’d go up the Antrim Road, and the next thing there’d be a ring of steel round West Belfast – it was a prison without the walls, but you still had your ring of steel.”
Ex-prisoners: “One of the remarkable things I have seen is ex-prisoners who have actually been released in the last 3 or 4 years – the work that they’ve actually been doing within the communities themselves. Some have become involved in community groups or youth groups, and what they’re doing is giving a lead; because like me, I would not like to see any young man or young woman go through the same thing which my family went through or I went through myself. Now I evolved in prison. I would say I was a “hothead” at 21 years of age, but within the prison setting I evolved, I matured. The unfortunate reality is that opportunity wasn’t there before I went into prison, because there was no mechanism there where I could express my views, or my community could express their views, and unfortunately, the direction that was taken was violence. I am saying one of the most unfortunate things about the last 25 years is that there were not groups like this here, that there were not people more interested in actually what was happening in the North. It’s no use turning round and saying “we have it all nice down here, but the people in the North, no, put them away, forget about them.”
Reaching out: “It’s a matter of reaching out – it’s a matter for the people of the South to reach out to the North, and people from the North to reach out to the South, and what you actually have to do is to create some form of common denominator, where people can come together, where they can develop their thoughts, and where they can reach a process which may not be agreeable to all people, but it’s a process where rights are protected, and that’s one of the most important things I feel should be enshrined here in the North, is a Bill of Rights for everyone.”
Lee Clegg: “I feel – and I think most people who are on the ground and who have experienced prison also feel – that if there’s not a speedy release of prisoners, if Lee Clegg is released with the next couple of weeks, it is going to cause immense problems within all the areas especially in the likes of Paul Norney’s case, because it will become an issue. Once it becomes an issue, the influence that prisoners have had, the influence that ex-prisoners have had, will be neutralised…”
Loyalist prisoners: “When I went to Maghaberry in 1991 I met loyalist prisoners for the first time. Maghaberry is an integrated prison and one of the things that struck me most was the very common themes that everybody had in common – you know you had this feeling “that’s a republican, that’s a loyalist – he believes in this, and I believe in that”, but when you start getting down to the nitty gritty, when you start talking about work, you start talking about social issues, you start talking about drug abuse in your areas, you start talking about employment, about prisoners going out, and families and things like that – I actually done a study with a loyalist prisoner into the effects of imprisonment on families.
Victims: “And when we talk about victims, I feel that the families of prisoners are as much victims as the victims themselves – they are innocent individuals, and when those families are actually travelling to England, and when they’re travelling up to prisons in the North, one of the things that has struck me is the hardship that the families go through. Now when the ceasefires were called last August and last October expectations were raised within nationalist and loyalist communities. Now whether people like it or not, they are the people who have borne the brunt of the violence, and they see no problem in the release of all prisoners, because people are of the view that if the conflict is over, then prisoners should be released, and we should set about setting up a system, regardless of what that system is, which recognises the right of everybody.”
4. Marty Snoddon (former loyalist prisoner):
“Thank you very much folks for listening to me this evening – I actually grew up on the same road as Ronnie did – on the Falls Road, but I actually came from Upper Falls, a little estate called Suffolk. During the early days of the Troubles, Suffolk was chaos, there was a lot of Protestant families put out of their houses. I was 15 years old; I was throwing bottles; I was throwing stones. I was trying to protect my family, my friends. I went from the defensive to the offensive – joined the UVF – went down the road to Long Kesh – served 15 years in Long Kesh and was released in 1990.
“I’m here basically for two reasons tonight – 1), should the prisoners get released? and 2), what happens to the prisoners after release? Both, I think, are equally important.
“If I can refer to what Marti had said earlier about the [3 points]… “political”, “consistency” and “victims”:
Victims: “Everybody regrets there’s victims, there’s victims in every theatre of conflict and nothing anybody can do can change that – that’s just life unfortunately. I see myself as a “prisoner of war” – the “in” term at the moment is “politically motivated prisoners”. I wasn’t a politically motivated prisoner – there was nothing political in my actions – my actions were actions of war, so I was a prisoner of war. Certainly now I recognise that it was the whole political environment – the chaos that was in Northern Ireland – that led me down that road. ”
Consistency: “If the paramilitaries had said, “well, let’s stop shooting soldiers this year; next year we’ll stop blowing up buildings in Belfast”, and the loyalist paramilitaries said “we’ll not go down to any bars in Dublin and attack IRA men, or who they perceive to be IRA men, or we’ll not attack anybody this year, and next year we’ll stop paramilitary beatings” – then it would have gone on for a long time. The British Government have got to recognise now that for to get peace then we’ve got to let the prisoners out.
Release of prisoners: “And what happens after the prisoners get out? I was released from prison – I thought I was coming out to freedom – it wasn’t freedom I came out to – there was a lot of pressures and a lot of stresses that came into my life when I was released from Long Kesh – family pressures. Whenever I went in I was 19 years old. My mother thought she was getting a 19 year old back out again – she wanted to mother me again – I was 35 years old. I wanted a flat of my own, I wanted to build my own life – that was a pressure within our family that we had to deal with, thankfully we did.
“Friends of mine from before I went into prison expected to see me coming out and putting a gun in my pocket again and going to war once more. They had to come to terms that my attitude, my views, had changed. It would have been very easy to have just sat down and said, “let’s have a pint boys; F– the Pope. Up the UVF, and let’s get on with it”.
“That’s the easy way, but when you’ve changed, it’s harder to put your hand up and say, “hold on a minute, why are we doing this, where are we going, what’s it going to achieve?”
Influence of former prisoners: “Fortunately enough, a lot of the men that I came through prison with still remained in contact in the world outside and are a support group for each other, and are able to stand up within our communities and say “that’s wrong”. And they are listened to, which is more important, because they do carry a lot of respect within their own communities – a lot of young people who had heard about them when they were growing up thought they were some kind of heroes because they’d taken up the gun. They can influence them people even more outside down the road to peace. There are other everyday relationships that prisoners have to deal with on release that they didn’t have to deal with when they were inside – they may have had a penpal or a girlfriend coming up to see them for 30 minutes or an hour once a week, or once a fortnight – that’s entirely different from living with somebody. So there’s a lot of pressures that the prisoner has to deal with in that respect.
Employment – “95-100% of loyalist prisoners being released end up on an ACE programme for their first year – they need a job before they can actually get out on the street. The ACE programmes – Action for Community Employment – last for 12 months, and then you’re out of a job. I would say 70% of the people who were released within 2-3 years of myself are now unemployed and probably have been since the end of their first year on ACE and they’ve no prospects of employment, by and large, because they’re still being discriminated against, because they were prisoners. I was personally discriminated against just at the turn of the year in my job – I was fortunate, I studied in Long Kesh, and am now a trainer in information technology, but even after 4 years with the company I found out that the personnel officer within that company disclosed confidential information to other employees, for no reason at all, just idle talk. That idle talk could have got me killed. So there’s a lot of discrimination, there’s a lot of problems that the prisoners need to deal with. If the prisoners need to deal with them there’s a lot more groups in our society that needs to help them.
PROP: “A year after my release, in 1991, Martie Rafferty brought together a number of ex-prisoners from both traditions – at the start there must have been about 5 or 6 PIRA ex-prisoners, 3-4 UVF ex-life sentence prisoners. What we didn’t realise at the time was how important that group was going to be in the future. We formed what we now call PROP – the Progressive Release of Political Prisoners.
“It’s make-up is Quakers, an independent research consultant in conflict mediation, and both traditions are represented on PROP – loyalist and republican. We’ve put together a proposal for 2 centres – one on the Falls Road, and one on the Shankill Road. We have for four years been researching and putting together that proposal, and for the past 2 years we’ve been trying to get funding for the centres. We’re halfway there with the funding – we’ve got a conditional guarantee of £60,000 – we can’t get the centres fully operational until we have all the funding. The type of thing we would like to be doing in the centres is for addressing all the needs of the prisoners, and the needs of the families of those who [are out].. and those still incarcerated. Nuala mentioned NIACRO and their proposal, or their booklet on “The Reintegration of Political Prisoners”. In 25 years of the Troubles I don’t think NIACRO once sent any representative into the prison. In that case, I don’t think NIACRO is an authority on prisoners, politically motivated prisoners’ issues. NIACRO are aware of us, as too is the N.I. Probation Service – a lot of what both those statutory bodies are saying is the content of our proposal to them for funding.
Chair: Judge Catherine McGuinness: “Thank you very much indeed. Now perhaps I should say that, because of the way things are mixed up in Ireland, where you don’t necessarily belong to one stream or the other – in my widespread family of clergy one of my uncles was Rector of Upper Falls where Marty came from, and yet at the same time my mother-in-law was a republican prisoner in Kilmainham during the Civil War. .. And I can remember my children when they were still small being quite proud of the fact that they had a granny who was in prison… You don’t get the one stream. All of us have connections, and in a way that’s helpful in giving us an understanding of both sides.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS – SUMMARY
Q. 1. What sort of relationships were there between loyalist and republican prisoners? On the Lee Clegg issue, the questioner felt some sympathy for him and felt that he should not have been sentenced for murder, but he believed the whole affair had been stage-managed.
Ronnie McCartney: Clegg was found guilty in a court of law. As to relationships between prisoners, many loyalist and republican prisoners have good relationships, he said.
Judge McGuinness: The difficulty with the Lee Clegg case is the consistency issue. She felt there was a very strong feeling that his release would be a very bad signal. “This was nothing to do with the individual guilt or innocence of Clegg himself.”
Q. 2: If someone were found guilty now of murder, how would this come into the question of early release?
Martie Rafferty: That is one of the issues that comes up frequently. “I can understand that this is a problem – I have a personal problem with that too. Most ex-prisoners believe that all prisoners must be released. It would be very hard to establish the criteria … There could be a minefield of difficulties, but I can understand the difficulty in human terms”.
Marty Snoddon: “It’s a very hypothetical. He believed that the longer the British Government takes on the issue, the more likelihood that it’s going to happen. On the Clegg affair, he said that the paratroopers were trying to keep the peace. If you recognise that, then you recognise there’s a war. If Clegg gets released as a result of the situation, then every prisoner should get released.
Q. 3 John Clancy: There have been over 3, 500 killed in the Troubles. Many of the killings were hideous and barbaric. Should the perpetrators of atrocities like Darkley and Greysteel etc. be released?
Ronnie McCartney: You could look at any of the murders that took place – there’s hurt on all sides. “I say they should be released. You have to put yourself back to look at the causes. The problem is to create the situation where people can feel they can put forward their views”. He said that he has also lost family members. If there is to be an end, then the prisoners must be released. “It’s a challenge for everyone on this island.”
Marty Snodden: This year  we saw celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War. How many atrocities were done during World War 2 ? – at the end of this war prisoners were released.”
Martie Rafferty: Most of us have talked about the need for healing. “I feel some sort of structure has to be set up where people can tell their story – no matter who it is – there has to be a way of saying to those people – we know you have suffered a loss, and to acknowledge and recognise that, and let them say it.
“If there were some mechanism whereby people could come and simply tell their story and have their experience validated in some way, I think that would go some way towards the healing process.”
Chair: Judge McGuinness: “The Forum has had victims of violence telling their stories …and we may address this again. The victims came from both sides of the divide, but not from the security forces, I recently went to Belfast to meet some of the Disabled Police Officers Association. They were very anxious to talk too and …they felt they had been treated meanly by the authorities. …We need to let the victims tell their stories and we need some mechanism for healing – it is very important”.
Q. 4. It must be a very different experience to come out of prison during a ceasefire and to come out before the ceasefire. How were you received in your own communities? Do they feel you have fulfilled your fight? What is your relationship now with those you were fighting with? You seem to have a different approach.
Marty Snoddon: When he was released, there was no ceasefire. The UVF had a policy that UVF life-sentenced prisoners would not be welcome back as a military operative. There hadn’t been any pressure on him to go back. As to the reaction of his community, he had been besieged with people welcoming him back.
Ronnie McCartney: He got out during the ceasefire. He said he had no problem getting back into his community. He has had great support and is now working with young people – “What I’m trying to do is give back a value to them, so that they can accept the position of responsiblity and accountability. It’s a two-way process – we also have to be responsible and accountable to them”. He got out only a short time ago and has had no pressure from anyone.
Q. 5 (Isobel Hylands, Craigavon): On the healing process she would like to let people know about a project she was involved in in Belfast – the “Crann” project which was trying to set up a place where people affected by the violence could come and tell their stories. Many of these will be recorded and the stories will be held in trust – the good things as well as the bad will be recorded, she said.
Q. 6 (Cllr. Jim Holloway, FG, Navan UDC): He would like to ask the prisoners – “at what point in your lives did you come to the conclusion that you didn’t have to be engaged in violence? If people feel secure they don’t feel they have to resort to violence.”
Ronnie McCartney: He went in to prison at 21 years having had only a basic education. In 1980 he started a course with the Open University and had got a first class honours degree. He believed that education had given him the ability to articulate and to analyse and realise there wasn’t only one side of the story – there’s maybe two, three, four sides to the story. “Instead of the tunnel vision my mind had started to open up … But because I am saying you have to go the democratic way, it doesn’t mean that my views or beliefs have been diluted in any shape or form – I still believe that there has to be a solution based on an all-Ireland context, but I’m prepared to argue, I’m prepared to be a persuader for that, I don’t think I should be excluded …but I also recognise that loyalists have a legitimate view – their view of their state is just as legitimate as mine. It is my hope that we will be able to persuade people to come into an all-Ireland state.”
Marty Snoddon: “It’s the first time I’ve been asked this question. There was no sudden change. It happened over a period of time”. He had no academic qualifications when he went to prison, having left school at 14. He was fortunate to be with Gusty Spence in prison and he was a great influence. The majority went into prison aged between 19-21. Gusty encouraged them to study Irish history and arranged for outside tutors to come in for a variety of subjects. He found himself in a study group with some members of the Official IRA and they used to chat and discuss their fears. “Through discussion and further development of the mind, I came to change my views and attitudes – it’s a complex thing, other things have contributed too, but there was no particular point at which this happened.”
Judge McGuinness: Educational structures were very important at Portlaoise too. The National College of Art and Design has had exhibitions of art work from Portlaoise. I believe it did a lot. The vast majority of prisoners that appear before her in the courts are drug-related. This is not the case at Portlaoise – and much progress has been made through education there.
Q. 7 (Navan resident, formerly from N. Ireland): To the ex-prisoners: “At the end of a war you release people. I agree with that. But there are people in prison who have been hiding behind the cloak of the IRA and UVF. Surely we must be selective? There are people in prison whom you must be ashamed of?” He instanced the case of Loughinisland just one year ago, when innocent people were gunned down while watching a football match. Surely you wouldn’t have done that? They were really war criminals.
Ronnie: “Yes, I would release them – no one has used me”. If we start differentiating, saying I can release this one but not that one, then we’ll get into again the whole cycle of violence. How does anyone know what they would have done. “I can’t determine what I would have done or wouldn’t have done…. I can’t justify it, I don’t think anyone can .. You have to look at the whole situation.. If I was a member of an organisation I would have done what I was asked to do, whether I liked it or not. You could bring up many instances. But where do you stop?”
Marty Snoddon: “I would reiterate what Gusty Spence had said when he announced the loyalist ceasefire. He deeply regretted all the shootings and all acts of war. He had particularly mentioned the Loughinisland episode.”
Q. 8: (Drogheda resident): During the last 25 years, he had raised his family. The only strife he had been involved in was industrial strife. He believed that common sense would solve the problem. “You’ve got to solve the problem yourselves” he said, fringe groups can only do so much. He was born in a mixed Catholic and Protestant street in Drogheda. All through the Troubles common sense had kept relations good between them.
Q. 9 (comment): He wanted to thank Judge McGuinness for chairing the meeting and particularly for explaining the work of the Forum. The perception had been that it was just a talking shop. He felt that Nuala Kelly had dealt comprehensively with the socio-economic issues of prison life and he was surprised at the high number of Irish prisoners in English jails and the relatively low number of those who were republican prisoners. Martie Rafferty, he said, was the essence of practical help … and the two prisoners were wonderful and had given us a very good insight into something we wouldn’t normally see. He also congratulated the Meath Peace Group for organising the event.
Q. 10: (Sinn Fein member, Navan): He would like to see the early release of prisoners, but he believes that progress has been deliberately held back by the British Government – to use the prisoners in some future negotiations. What can be done now to move the British forward?
Nuala Kelly: “The main issue up to now that we could have asked people to make local representations was the question of transfers … that looks like its going ahead now. Each prisoner will probably be taken case by case. I think there is a need to keep up awareness on the transfer issue across the board.. I also think that people with relatives in England .. should ask them to raise issues and put pressure on their local representatives”.
Ronnie: Permanent transfers should be sought – not temporary. Republican prisoners are being discriminated against again in the North. All applications for parole have to go to the Home Office.
Martie Rafferty: “Pressure must be brought – to convince people who would exert more influence than us. … Northern Ireland is small, that is an advantage, you can meet people personally — contact people within arenas of influence and get them to put things forward…”
Chair: Judge McGuinness: Politicians are influenced by what they think their constituents want. “If we can influence people on the ground .. particularly within the Northern Irish or indeed the English situation, and … express how central this issue is to the whole peace process and how dangerous it is to leave the issue fester.”
Q. 11. Surely the handing in of arms is part of this issue?
Judge McGuinness: “It’s hard to say … The issue of making de-commissioning of arms a prerequisite for any talks at all was not something that was raised until after the ceasefires – in many ways that is creating a lot of difficulties as well”.
Julitta Clancy thanked Judge McGuinness and all the speakers. She said a particular thanks was due to the two former prisoners who had come at such short notice, due to other arrangements having fallen through. There were a couple of points she would like to make. “Violence has always been glorified in this country – we have seen the results of violence over the last 25 years… How can we change things in the future? We had some victims of violence talking to us 3 weeks ago – we could feel their terrible hurts and the need for them to talk and be listened to. It is important that they be given an opportunity to tell their stories.” The prisoners and their families were victims too, she said, and we must address their problems too. But will the prisoners’ groups listen to the victims too? Too often the violence is glorified. Terrible things had been done, terrible and unjustifiable things. How can we avoid this happening again in the future? We must be prepared to learn from this. The Meath Peace Group had brought the exhibition “Violence – Count the Costs” into many schools in Meath and the students were very interested in both the causes of the violence and the effects. This period of history must be a constant lesson to us all, she said.
Judge Catherine McGuinness, Circuit Court judge, was appointed chairperson of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in October, 1994. She was born in Belfast, daughter of a Church of Ireland rector, educated in Dublin (Alexandra College and TCD), and was called to the Bar in 1977. Her interest in family law culminated in her report on the Kilkenny incest case in 1993. During the 1960s, she worked as a parliamentary officer for the Labour Party, and has served on many bodies, including the National Economic and Social Council, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Marriage Breakdown and the Employment Equality Agency.
Nuala Kelly is a sociologist and community worker, originally from Co. Fermanagh. She was appointed to develop the services of the ICPO 10 years ago. She recently coordinated the submissions to the Forum on the part of prisoners’ groups. The Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas is a sub-section of the Bishops’ Commission for Emigrants. It was established in 1985, in response to concerns expressed by prisoners and their families, to act in the particular interests of Irish prisoners serving sentences abroad. The Commission cares for all Irish prisoners throughout the world, regardless of offence or faith, and their families in Ireland.
Martie Rafferty works closely with individual prisoners in both the Maze and Maghaberry. The Quaker Prison Service operates visitor centres at the Maze and Maghaberry prisons in Northern Ireland. Each centre offers a range of services to visitors, families and friends, including canteen facilities, information/assistance/counselling, transport, childcare and pre-release and post-release support for prisoners and their families.
Ronnie McCartney (former republican prisoner) was brought up in the Falls Road in Belfast. He was 16 when the “Troubles” started. He moved with his family to England in 1974 and in 1975, at the age of 21, he was arrested and sentenced. He served 20 years in prison and was released in the Spring of 1995.
Marty Snoddon (former loyalist prisoner) came from the Suffolk estate on the Upper Falls in Belfast. He joined the UVF in the early 1970s and was sentenced in 1975. He served 15 years in Long Kesh before being released in 1990.
Meath Peace Group report. July 1995. Compiled and edited by Julitta Clancy; audio-recorded by Anne Nolan
(c)Meath Peace Group