Funding scarce, but ‘Tar Abhaile’ is still helping ex-republican prisoners

Protesting ex-republican prisoners from Derry who took part in a local tribunal with former Canadian Solicitor General, Warren Allmand and Richard Harvey QC.
Protesting ex-republican prisoners from Derry who took part in a local tribunal with former Canadian Solicitor General, Warren Allmand and Richard Harvey QC.

Tar Abhaile may have lost its funding in March, but fundraising and altruistic volunteers ensured that ex-republican prisoners in Derry were not forgotten.

Tar Abhaile, which means ‘after home’ in English, is part of the Coiste Na n-Iarchimí, a committee set-up in the north to facilitate the needs of ex-republican prisoners.

Located in West End Park, Tar Abhaile was formed in Derry in 1995. Since that time the group has been working tirelessly with more than 300 ex-republican prisoners. The funding cuts have certainly impacted upon the group but if you talk to any of their volunteers they will tell you that, even without public funding, Tar Abhaile will always exist.

“Ex-republican prisoners are an important part of this community and they made some important contributions to civic life over the years,” said ex-republican prisoner, Charlie McMenamin.

“Ex-republican prisoners in the north still have to endure problems with things as simple as house insurance; getting a job or travelling to certain countries throughout the world. It’s precisely because of these and many more issues that Tar Abhaile exists but, with or without funding, there will always be a network of volunteers willing to give up their time to help the ex-republican prisoners living in Derry,” he added.

Despite the lack of funding, volunteers at Tar Abhaile have somehow managed to keep offering support to ex-prisoners and their families. Perhaps one of the most impressive stories to emerge from the funding crisis is that Tar Abhaile has managed to keep running three key projects; the well being scheme; the community and education outreach scheme and the protesting prisoners scheme.

A youth and policing conference organised by Tar Abhaile in the Guildhall last year.

A youth and policing conference organised by Tar Abhaile in the Guildhall last year.

Ex-republican prisoner, Pius McNaught is heavily involved in the protesting prisoners scheme. Pius spent almost five years on protest in Long Kesh in the 1970’s and said whilst the scheme certainly benefited the men and women who took part, many of them, including himself, still find it very difficult to talk about.

The treatment of republican prisoners in the H-blocks in Long Kesh and Armagh’s women’s prison has been described as systematic abuse by some. The alleged abuse from 1976 to 1981 is the subject of an international tribunal being driven by Coiste Na n-Iarchimí.

Belfast solicitors’ firm, O Muirigh, attempted to get as wide a picture as possible of the experience of ex-republican prisoners. They interviewed almost 80 blanket and no wash ex-prisoners throughout the north, including a number from Derry.

“It was very hard to talk about,” said Pius. “Some of the things that happened to us back then were absolutely awful. I remember beatings, being held down and forcibly washed and some of the searches were tantamount to sexual assault.

Some ex-republican prisoners taking part in the Tar Abhaile well-being scheme in Westend Park.

Some ex-republican prisoners taking part in the Tar Abhaile well-being scheme in Westend Park.

“This was the experience of many Derry ex-republican prisoners and it’s something Tar Abhaile is determined to remain part of because it’s vitally important that the truth is heard,” he added.

Derry woman, Patricia Moore, spent a year of her life in Armagh women’s prison. Patricia is a volunteer with Tar Abhaile. Through the community and education outreach scheme Patricia talks to young people about the reality of prison life.

“Myself and another ex-female prisoner met with girls from Thornhill College recently to talk about our experiences in prison.

“The good thing about this type of scheme is that we are able to educate people on the plight of ex-republican prisoners and it’s also a good way to talk about how the best way to go about achieving a united Ireland is through the medium of politics.”

Tony Millar is an ex-republican prisoner. Tony is a volunteer with Tar Abhaile and has helped to deliver the group’s well being project.

A piece of wasteland close Tar Abhaile’s office in Westend Street was transformed by the well being scheme into an allotment.

Unfortunately, a polytunnel was vandalised and as a result of the funding constraints has not been replaced.

“We’ve already got all of the vegetables planted for the winter months,” said Tony.

“The Well Being Scheme and the allotment has been invaluable.

“Ex-prisoners have been able to come here with their families. We even had an event outside where we cooked a lot of the produce we had grown - it was a great day,” added Tony.

Tar Abhaile expects a funding decision in 2016 but it’s fair to suggest that through the dedication of people such as Pius, Patricia and Tony, the group is not going away.

Tar Abhaile will host a special fundraising event in Tracy’s Bar, on William Street/Waterloo Street, on Sunday December 13th at 6:30 p.m and everyone is welcome to attend.