TUESDAY 02/09/2003 08:08:40 UTV
Ex-prisoners suffer 'discrimination'

Former prisoners released in Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement are suffering discrimination as a result of their paramilitary past, a report claimed today.

The report by a republican ex-prisoner's group, Coiste na n-Iarchimi has called for an end to barriers to the appointment of ex-prisoners in vital public services.

The organisation's chairman, former IRA hunger-striker Raymond McCartney said; "In this report we point out how little has been done to address the legal barriers facing ex-prisoners.

"The point is most startlingly highlighted by correspondence from the Ambulance Service indicating that political ex-prisoners 'would not be considered suitable for appointment in a public service such as ours.'

"We are aware of a similar policy approach by many other public bodies.

"Such attempts to persist in the criminalisation of republican ex-prisoners are bizarre in a society where you can be an ex-prisoner and a minister in the Assembly, common elected member of Parliament in Westminster, or a TD in Leinster House (the Irish republic's Parliament), the mayor of Belfast or the headmaster of a secondary school.

"Yet you can be barred from providing a vital service to your local community as a taxi driver or an ambulance worker or a postal worker."

The release of loyalist and republican prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement was one of the most controversial aspects of the 1998 accord.

Unionists expressed their revulsion at the release of paramilitary prisoners from the Maze Prison.

Ex-prisoners have maintained for the past five years that they are still being penalised for having being in jail despite the promise of equal treatment for all under the Agreement.

Mr McCartney, a senior Sinn Fein member in Derry, called for the law to be changed to ensure ex-prisoners did not suffer discrimination anymore.

"We continue to believe that those in positions of authority within government and statutory agencies must take note of the changed environment in which we live and amend legislation and administrative practice accordingly."

The full contents of the report will be discussed at the annual gneral meeting of Coiste na n-Iarchimi at the Gasyard building in Derry.

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