Beyond the Wire: Former terrorists helping keep the new peace…

FORMER paramilitary prisoners are playing a positive role in maintaining peace at a grass-roots level, according to academics Pete Shirlow and Kieran McEvoy. In their new book – Beyond the Wire: Former Prisoners and Conflict Transformation in Northern Ireland – launched last week, Prof McEvoy reveals that 10 years after early releases began, of the 450 prisoners released early, just 20 have had their licences revoked, of which 16 were for terrorist related activities. This compares to a general re-offending rate of 48% within two years for ‘ordinary prisoners’. Shirlow argues that EU funding for projects has been critical to the low re-conviction rate, providing positive opportunities to ex-prisoners – such as keeping the peace at political interfaces. Dr Shirlow said: “Beyond the Wire challenges common misconceptions about former prisoners that often lead to them being excluded from normal civic and social life. It reminds us of the need for both former combatants and victims to participate in post-conflict transformation in our society.

  • gareth mccord

    what a load of crap!! did the prof take into account the views of those people actually still paying protection money or the fact that if released prisoners were allowed to be arrested and charged for their continuing crimes then stormont would collapse. I would say to the prof to get out of his malone road home and live in republican areas or loyalist areas and say the para scum benefit any community. The only difference which is welcomed is that there is no sectarian shooting or bombings now, but the para scum still terrorise their own communities.

  • New Yorker

    There has been no thorough monitoring program of ex-prisoners. So on what data are they basing their conclusions? Do they have a dossiers on all 450+ let out?

    I agree with Gareth, experience is just the opposite of their conclusions to people on the ground. Does anybody think ex-prisoners were not involved in the murders of Paul Quinn and Robert McCartney? If they were still prisoners and not ex-prisoners, there would be less crime: Does anybody doubt that?

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Healty variety in terminology in intro “Former Terrorists” , “Former Paramilitary Prisoners” and “Former Combatants”.

    “challenges common misconceptions about former prisoners that often lead to them being excluded from normal civic and social life”

    except when they…

    Just get to run the government.

  • Belfastpaul

    I have read the book and on the first page they make clear that not all former prisoners are angels. Their overall argument is based upon survey work and also international arguments about ex-prisoners.

    Their central point is that there is a positive contribution being made and that not all former prisoners aere drug dealers etc. They are 30000 ex-paramilitary prisoners and are the above all saying they are all drug dealers etc. If anything as this book shows they are on the dole, in ill health and on benefits. Hardly heroic stuff.

    I am also pretty sure these profs do not live up the Malone Road and the one that I know is as down to earth as they come. Both of them have made a contribution to stopping violence and offering alternatives to paramilitarianism.

    I assume their attitude is that we shoudl debate these issues and not simply knee-jerk all the time.

    Paramilitaries are not the only ones who casued mayhem and havoc. Also what do the middle classes ever do to stop poverty and injustice. At least these two have got up of their backsides to try and stop violence and build the peace process.

  • zippy123

    Is the statement ‘what a load of crap’ to be taken seriously? Like Belfastpaul I have also read the book and it is a serious piece of work. Not as some think a pro-paramilitary book or a book that doesn’t deal with complex issues.

    And they live up the Malone Road…not on lecturers wages they don’t..

    I always think that you shouldn’t comment on a book until you have read it. Have the first 3 on here read the book?

  • Stephen

    Posters 1 and 2 on this thread have probably read the book in as much detail – i.e. none -as Simon Hamilton, who made critical comments in Saturday’s Irish Times. It’s actually an important book which doesn’t overlook the suffering of victims of the conflict, but focuses upon what prisoners have done in terms of ending the conflict. Surely that’s quite an important aspect to analyse? Unless we think they all just obediently followed the words of Gerry, Gusty et al without any debate??

  • New Yorker

    The primary issue involved is: Should it have happened the way it did? Should all have been released? At generally the same time? Were measures taken to ensure public safety?

    This book seems to take it as a given that the entire scheme was a good idea and does not seem to address the primary questions. By skipping the important questions, they mitigate the value of their book.

    Was the scheme a success if one ex-prisoner murdered? Non-release would have prevented that murder. Not all, but many of these ex-prisoners were, and maybe still are, dangerous people: Was anything done to protect society from them?

  • zippy

    New Yorker…it was a peace process. So would you have kept them locked up forever….Do you not think the conflict was a bit more complex than how you imagine it…Do you think of these people as merely psychopaths?

    Yet again the book is not simply about early release. Your percpetion is driven by the link. Have you read the book?

  • Granni Trixie

    Prisoners,like anybody, have the right to change which employment laws etc ought to facilitate. What I object to in this book however is a tone which seems to valorise prisoners for their efforts to put right matters in NI which to a large extent their actions created (and yes, I know there were other elements). Victims/families must find it galling as many long to see prisoners show some signs of regret not seek recognition for the “model” this book advocates or a thinly disguised attempt to legitimise exprisoners former actions. But then as one of the authors has close links to the CAJ, what’s new?

  • sammy s

    Jesus what a lot of nonsense. It is so clear who has read and hasn’t read the book. I have read it. Good stuff and very rigourous analysis and a lot more sophisticated an analysis than they are living up tne Malone Road, are in CAJ or that they are Ivory Tower types.

    Maybe if people read things like this then they could comment accurately upon them, and by the way they are as noted above against glorifying violence etc. I would also assume some loylaists and republicans won’t like what they have said.

  • New Yorker


    If one person was murdered by an ex-prisoner, do you think letting them out in the way they did was good?

    Of course not all are psychopaths but some are. And society should be protected from all psychopaths.

    You call it a Peace Process but in reality it was the state defeating the various paramilitary groups. I think there should have been a very gradual release program with the less dangerous getting out first and all should have been closely monitored for many years. For those in for murder, you have to be very careful about letting them back into the public as recent murder cases sadly demonstrate.

    Sammy S

    The major contribution of this book is not what is included in it but that it may remind some people about the prisoner release program and to what degree it was good or bad for NI. I think it should be reviewed and, probably, changes made. The first thing that should be done is to research exactly what each and every ex-prisoner has done since release. I doubt you read that in this book, but that data would be what you would use to draw conclusions about the release program.

  • sammy s

    New Yorkrt,

    The book does all the things you say it doesn’t

  • McEvoy, peacemaking criminology, positivist terrorology and the ‘Blue Book’.

    Offer the paramilitary loons a prominent place in local community justice systems in exchange for putting down the iron bar, arrange the odd round of golf with President McAleese’s husband and praise the likes of the Finaghy Crossroads Group as the greatest thing since the Ormeau bap.

    Needless to say, this form of appeasement is unlikely to be introduced in the rest of these two islands where the justice systems remain firmly under the direction of state agencies.

    It’s just one more insult to the victims of paramilitarism dressed up in exotic jargon.