"Sometimes I wish I was an 'ex' ex-prisoner" : release and reintegration : the experience of 'politically motivated' former prisoners in Northern Ireland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines the experiences of ‘politically motivated’ former prisoners who underwent the process of release and reintegration since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. In particular, it examines the modalities of release and the particular role of community based ‘self help’ organisations in the process of reintegration. The analysis explores a number of key issues which have shaped the process of release and reintegration, namely the importance of ‘naming’ the experience of political imprisonment itself and the mechanisms devised to overcome both the definitional hurdles and the formal/informal recognition of a ‘special type’ of prisoner in Northern Ireland. I argue that prisoner release, under the recent peace agreement, was achieved by a politically informed but nonetheless pragmatic, instrumental and technical approach to peacemaking. I further contend that whilst these legalistic mechanisms were utilised successfully to circumnavigate ideologically charged discussions on political motivation, the failure to formally recognise the political character of those imprisoned and released has continued to bedevil the process of reintegration. I also explore two key themes associated with the ‘self help’ former prisoner organisations which have emerged in the past decade. First, using a social movement framework, I focus upon the role played by these ‘self-help’ groups in the process of both individual and collective identity construction. Second, I examine the ways in which the human rights and equality frameworks have been deployed by these self-help organisations in mobilising against what they term ‘residual criminalisation’ and argue that these efforts have broadened the potential for advancement of rights for all former prisoners. Finally I conclude that, a decade after the bulk of the early release processes were completed, there is now a persuasive case to be made that an amnesty is required in order to signal the formal end to the Northern Ireland conflict and to allow ‘politically motivated’ former prisoners to become full citizens in the new polity.
Date of AwardDec 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorKieran McEvoy (Supervisor)

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