The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Preventing Prejudice

He who opens a school door closes a prison. - Victor Hugo


Anthony McIntyre • 21 October 2006

The decision by University College Cork to first appoint Feilim O hAdhmaill as a lecturer in social policy and to then stand over the decision once knowledge of O'hAdhmaill's IRA past began to filter throughout the university is estimable. The Irish Independent in a news article, while refraining from being judgemental, ran the by-line of its security correspondent (who co-authored the article) to bring the matter to wider public attention. This gave the whole affair a security connotation it did not merit. Insidiously and subliminally, O'hAdhmaill's appointment has become tainted with subversion.

The university in defending its decision pointed out that O'hAdhmaill made no attempt to conceal his past. On the contrary he was very 'upfront' about it. The university appointed him because the peace process in its view had created a context whereby the application for the post should be considered on merit and not against a background of the IRA's armed struggle and associated English bombing campaign. O'hAdhmaill was sentenced to 25 years after being convicted by a British court of taking part in that campaign. In considering his application the university applied neither positive nor negative discrimination toward him.

Feilim O'hAdhmaill is a competent academic whose integrity and experience are valued by those he has taught and others who are familiar with his work. By the time of his arrest and subsequent imprisonment in 1994 he had acquired a PhD. But like Pat Magee before him, who acquired his own doctorate while in prison, he faces being pilloried in Southern society on the grounds that such academic standing does not matter; that because he was a republican prisoner he should be shunned forever and a day by academia, media and all other pillars of society.

It is a fact of life that many former republican prisoners play crucial roles in Irish life, as they have done since the formation of the Free State, now the Republic of Ireland. Some are local government councillors while others are members of Dail Eireann, the national parliament. If Sinn Fein eventually enters a coalition government with Fianna Fail, a former republican prisoner could be Tanaiste. In the North it is likewise. Many former republican prisoners are elected politicians in three separate arenas, local government, the Stormont assembly and the British parliament. In 1984 a former republican prisoner received around 90, 000 votes when he bid to become a member of the European parliament. The notion that former republican prisoners can lead the country but not teach it is ludicrous.

Outside of elected politics former republican prisoners play an active role in all aspects of community life. The argument that they should be demonised, excluded and discriminated against because they have a prisoner past should be rebutted wherever it appears.
There is also a wider societal ramification. In prison great value is placed on the education facilities. They are lauded as the means whereby a prisoner can emerge from prison and make a solid contribution to society. Potentially education can help reduce the high rate of recidivism that is said to plague the Irish penal world. Educationalists give of their time and energy in circumstances hardly conducive to an academic setting to assist prisoners to develop skills and enhance their intellect. If education is playing a positive role within the Irish penal network, it can be claimed that it is one of the few success stories of the country's prison system which is much more used to being reported on for the appalling conditions in which those behind its walls are forced to exist. What, however, would the value of prison education be other than to while away the time and push back the tedium if it is seen by the imprisoned to have no practical function on the outside?

If a small number of students feel they wish to protest against the UUC decision to appoint Feilim O'hAdhmail, in a democratic society it is their right to do so. However, the university's decision to retain O'hAdhmail should be robustly defended in the face of such protests and against others who would seek to sensationalise his appointment. Even though the challenge to O'hAdhmail's appointment was unsuccessful, it indicates that some are intent on establishing an arbitrary line over which no future academics who served time as republican activists shall pass. It is a line that should be pushed back, not just for former republican prisoners but for all who for one reason or another became familiar with the wrong side of a prison wall.

A wide ranging, multi-agency and inclusive prison regime which spans both imprisonment and post-prison environments is palpably absent in Irish society. If it is ever created it will prove its worth only when it is able to fully integrate ex-prisoners back into society; and when it reaches the point where ex-prisoners to all intents and purposes cease to be ex-prisoners in anything other than disused records files stored on some bureaucrat's computer.








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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

25 October 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

From Up the Ra to Up the Rozzers
Anthony McIntyre

Just Say No
Martin Galvin

Whither Irish Republicanism
Mick Hall

The Three Stooges
John Kennedy

Jockeying For Position
Dr John Coulter

An Irish Agreement
Liam O Comain

Up the Garden Path
John Kennedy

A Gaelic Experiement
Nathan Dowds

Preventing Prejudice
Anthony McIntyre

16 October 2006

Friday the 13th — The Most Terrifying Deal Ever Done!
Tom Luby

Black Friday
Anthony McIntyre

When No Means Yes
Dr John Coulter

Blowin' In The Wind
John Kennedy

Time to Conclude NI Process
David Adams

Once Bitten
Anthony McIntyre

Dysfunctional Family Values
Mick Hall

Racism: The Social Uniter?
Dr John Coulter

Nobody Home
John Kennedy

'The Revolution is the People'
Jane Horgan-Jones



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