'Two thirds of ex-prisoners with conflict-related convictions still unemployed'

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By Michael McHugh

Two thirds of ex-prisoners with conflict-related convictions are still unemployed 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, an academic said.

Their family members have also been black-listed by some employers as an inter-generational legacy of the years of violence, Professor Peter Shirlow added.

A wide-ranging bid to persuade employers and service-providers to rethink their misgivings known as the Open Doors project has received a 1.6 million euro funding boost from the EU.

Prof Shirlow, from the University of Liverpool, said: "Conflict-related prisoners are still excluded through law.

"Over those 20 years more people have failed to get work because they have been vetted.

"We are living in a society which is supposed to have gone through a peace process in which a significant section of our society have not been brought into full citizenship.

"That is a social injustice, it is a social wrong and it is something which completely contradicts the whole idea of and for a peace process, which has to be about the inclusion of all people within society because exclusion is the cause of conflict."

The effect can also be felt in higher insurance premiums and problems acting as carers for children, difficulties accessing benefits for an ageing population and pension contribution gaps.

Peter Sheridan, chief executive of the peace-building charity Co-operation Ireland, said ex-prisoners had a key role to play in ending continuing paramilitarism.

The organisations delivering the EU funding include Charter NI, the Ex-Prisoners' Interpretive Centre, Teach Na Failte and the Plough Historical and Cultural Group.

Paul Gallagher from Teach Na Failte said: "It won't bring closure to the conflict if individual ex-prisoners feel that they are isolated, then projects like ourselves can try and bring them together as a collective."

Colin Halliday from Charter NI works with former UDA ex-prisoners based in Belfast.

He said former political prisoners are still being discriminated against in employment, in travel, in fostering.

"Everyone is being asked to move on, and all the former combatant groups have moved on.

"We have changed our whole ethos and where we are going and what we are going to do but we are still being discriminated against.

"If we are to become part of civil society which everybody tells us they want us to be they have to take those barriers down, we want to move on we cannot still be punished for something that many of us did 35 years ago."

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