Posted By: October 24, 2014


Briege Gadd. Irish News (Belfast). Friday, October 24, 2014

EDDIE Kinner is a released life sentenced loyalist ex-prisoner. What he said just after the loyalist ceasefires 20 years ago was recalled on a news programme last week from a piece marking the anniversary of the loyalist ceasefires. While I can’t recall his words exactly I remember thinking that he was right to refer to the huge job ahead then in decommissioning the mindset in paramilitaries and in the communities that spawned them. Reflecting back it occurred to me that a whole sub-set of people from all shades of backgrounds, numbering many thousands if you count the ones apprehended, were left to melt quietly and seamlessly back into their communities. Sure, there was some European money ringfenced for job creation for exprisoners and ex-combatants. And there are dedicated welfare organisations whose brief is to cater for the needs of this group of people. But significantly neither the assembly here or the joint guarantors of the Good FridayAgreement (GFA), the British or Irish governments, concerned themselves with developing a strategy and a monitored plan which identified and addressed the needs of this specific group. This is even though the GFA made it a specific requirement to address the needs of prisoners, particularly their exclusion from the job market. It is therefore not surprising that there is unfinished business in the whole peace process with regard to paramilitarism and in some cases the retention of the scaffolding of paramilitary control in some areas. To requote the now infamous words of Adams, “they haven’t gone away you know”. Not surprising given that as a society moving towards peace we collectively closed the door of community reintegration firmly in their faces. Some of us even defined them as the sole cause of all our troubles, to be eternally blamed for all the violence. To me, who carries the blame for the Troubles is a redundant argument best left to historians of some future time. More pertinent a challenge is how we prepare our society for a future that by its inclusive and equal access to fairness and justice does its best to ensure a peaceful future. That means, albeit belatedly, the politicians should address the issue of the successful reintegration into their own communities people who were militarily active during the Troubles. I know this matter joins a long list of challenges facing a cohort of elected representatives who show themselves incapable of addressing both simple and difficult issues. But there is a clever way of solving this outstanding matter and that is to let the ex-prisoners produce their own shopping list of solutions. The fact is that republicans and loyalists have already shown that when required they can collectively address difficult issues of common concern. For example it might surprise some readers to know that for many years prior to the GFA prisoners and ex-prisoners of different political standpoints were working on different aspects of the search for a settlement. Ideas were exchanged and debated not just amongst themselves but with a range of influential civic society leaders. Gusty Spence, the leader of the UVF, was an inspirational thinker who was aware that changes on a global basis and demographic changes locally would require radical thinking and a major shift in mindset of all of us and especially those of a unionist persuasion who clung to past certainties. Gusty was of a mind that the unionists should grasp the initiative and define terms from a position of strength (if he were alive today I guess he’d say time for that approach is running out.) We also tend to forget that during the Troubles community activists on both sides took it onto themselves to police many ordinary crimes. And, tough though it might be now to acknowledge their role, they did so in the main with the connivance of their community. Many of them over time became committed peacemakers who began to work tirelessly, and still do, to reform and rehabilitate young offenders. At this critical time of a mop- up of all the unresolved issues in our peace process, it seems important that Eddie Kinner’s words are minded again. The republicans have always reintegrated their prisoners without governmental help. Unionists refuse to forgive – so reintegration has barely started. It’s time it did.