With many former participants in the conflict moving into community work, what roles do they have to play in the successful sharing of space in areas like South Belfast?
Former paramilitaries have done invaluable work on both sides of the peace lines in the last decade …can those skills now be utilised to harmonise relationships between the indigenous communities and the growing minority ethnic communities?
Discussion with ex-prisoners Gerard Rice, Plum Smith and Laurence McKeown and views from the Police Service Northern Ireland.
Gerard Rice is a youth leader, community worker, and spokesperson for the Lower Ormeau community. He was involved in the founding of Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC). This group was set up following the massacre of five local people in Sean Graham’s Bookie Shop by loyalists, the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Five people were killed and nine seriously injured. The guns used had been brought into the country by Brian Nelson, a British agent.
Plum Smith (William Smith) was a Northern Irish loyalist, former paramilitary and politician. He had been involved in loyalism in various capacities for at least forty years. He was arrested for his part in the attempted murder of Catholic civilian, a drive-by shooting that Plum would later admit was motivated by “pure sectarianism and bigotry”. He received a ten-year prison sentence for the shooting. Plum became a community worker with the Ex-Prisoners Interpretative Centre. Deputy First Minister, Maartin McGuinness, praised his contribution and commitment to the peace process.
Laurence McKeown is an Irish author, playwright, screenwriter, and former volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). He joined the IRA when aged 17, and was arrested in August 1976, charged with causing explosions and the attempted murder of a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He took part in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. His family authorised medical attention after 70 days.
Nor Meekly Serve My Time: The H-Block Struggle 1976–1981 (co-written with Brian Campbell and Felim O’Hagan) was published in 1994.
Completed in 2010.