A community body that provides services to Republican former prisoners who applied for a grant from Northern Ireland’s Centenary Fund has emerged.
This came to light after the Belfast Telegraph requested a Freedom of Information Act request in the Northern Ireland Office of the Common History Fund.
The £1m fund was set up last year to provide funds to community groups to mark the 100th anniversary of the formation of Northern Ireland.
Coiste na nIarchimi was founded in 1998 as the coordinating body for groups and projects in the island of Ireland, providing services to Republican former prisoners and their families.
The body applied to fund a project called ‘Echoes of Internment’, but the application was rejected. The application pertains to the small grants section of the scheme, which provides funding of between £3,000 and £10,000.
According to Coiste na nIarchimi’s website, the network of groups under its umbrella seeks to: “Work to remove the social, legal and administrative barriers faced by the Republican political ex-prisoner community as a result of incarceration; political ex-prisoners and their Giving practical advice to families; and facilitating group conversation, dialogue and structured discussion and debate, considering the legacy of conflict and conflict change, among other measures.
“In return, the Coiste Republican seeks to bring about an equitable dissemination of development among member groups while developing an overall structure for ex-prisoner groups and the representation of political ex-prisoner community concerns to external agencies, including the media, government, and regions.” structures in Ireland and the public in general,” the website adds.
Coiste na nIarchimi’s application was one of 116 applications to the Common History Fund that were rejected.
The group’s director, Michael Culbert, said the money would have been used to deal with internments for the oral history project.
A former IRA member turned community activist, Mr. Culbert previously served 15 years in Maze Prison for his part in the 1978 murder of RUC constable Miller McAllister.
“My starting point is that I am an Irish Republican,” he told the Belfast Telegraph. “What we were thinking with this (the echo of the internment) were other aspects of what was happening during the 100 years of the existence of the state.
“There was internment roughly every decade. People were jailed for their disagreements about the existence of the state over the course of 100 years.
“We were going to move in that direction with the project, not with a negative view, but to highlight other aspects of the century.”
The intention was to collect an oral history with those directly affected or their living relatives.
“Because of the state’s opposition, you didn’t really have to be guilty of anything, you just suspected something,” he said. “These were aspects we were considering shedding light on, but it was not accepted as an acceptable position.”
Mr Culbert pointed to last year’s centenary service at Armagh, which made headlines after Irish President Michael D Higgins refused an invitation.
He said the event ultimately failed to find the right balance between celebration and recognition of events during the last century.
Other rejection applications for smaller grants included bids by the Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine for a project titled ‘Building Peace: How Israelis and Palestinians Interact with the Northern Ireland Peace Process’, and from Liverpool’s Hope University. There was an application. A project titled ‘Commemoration of the Centenary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of Shared History’.
More than a dozen applications filed by the Orange Lodge in Northern Ireland as well as the County Antrim Independent Grand Orange Lodge Cultural Committee were also rejected.
Funding for this scheme was distributed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Speaking at the launch of the scheme, the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Director of Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, said: “We recognize that dealing with disputed heritage can be challenging, but it is also important that this is a critical period marked by and for many communities. And the persons it has affected are accepted.”