Trust to help with education of former IRA prisoners

 

A new trust has been set up in the State to help recently released paramilitary prisoners complete their education and enter the workforce.

The new body, the Educational Trust, aims to help former republican prisoners living in the cities and near the Border who are seeking "retraining and reskilling". It will provide grants to those who lack resources to pay for their education.

According to the trust's steering group, which includes an official from the Department of Justice, many former paramilitary prisoners have undertaken courses during their time in prison but have not been able to complete them due to lack of resources.

A similar trust now operates in Northern Ireland and has supported some 200 former prisoners since 1997. The trust in the Republic will have close links with the body in the North and will share resources and some personnel. The grant aid will initially be administered from Belfast.

The grant aid is mainly coming from European money, much of it provided under the EU Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

The trust's steering group said the best way to prevent former paramilitary prisoners drifting back into violence was to provide them with the education they required.

Many prisoners in the Republic had taken degrees while in prison and now wanted to take on post-graduate study, the group said. However, "very simple things", like the ability to buy course texts or pay for childminding, could determine the likelihood of educational success.

The group said politically motivated prisoners differed from most of the prison population in the Republic, the later tending to be younger, serving shorter sentences and often using heroin.

It said former republican prisoners needed a different "access strategy" to that of mainstream prisoners, who can "be contacted and assessed by normal prison systems and by prison officials".

It said IRA prisoners at Portlaoise interviewed for a recent report said education was of "paramount importance" to them upon release.

Members of the steering group include Mr Sean Wynne of Port laoise Prison; Ms Nuala Kelly of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas; Ms Niamh Mernagh of the Northside Partnership; Mr Andrew Logue of the Disability Federation of Ireland; and members of groups working with offenders such as Pathways, PACE and Expac.