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Out of jail, but bars to a full life remain

Paul O’Neill (Tar Isteach chairperson) and Tommy Quigley (manager) at the group’s premises on the Antrim Road Paul O’Neill (Tar Isteach chairperson) and Tommy Quigley (manager) at the group’s premises on the Antrim Road
By Conor McParland

TAR Isteach – English translation ‘Come In’ – first opened its doors in September 1999.
The Antrim Road-based group was set up to provide integrated support services for republican ex-prisoners and their families in the North Belfast area.
The voluntary and minimally-funded organis-ation has developed into one of the best advice services on all aspects of welfare rights: benefits, housing, debt and money management, health and disability, bereavement support and pathways to employment.
A counselling and emotional support service for all aspects of mental and emotional health and wellbeing as well as a youth project providing programmes of personal development, active citizenship, multi-culturalism, healthy living and peer monitoring.
“We wanted to put together some sort of support service for ex-prisoners and with the accelerated release of prisoners after the Good Friday Agreement, there was an urgent need for something,” explained Tar Isteach manager Tommy Quigley.
“We celebrate 20 years of service next year. When we started off, we genuinely expected to be out of business after a few years and all the issues would be resolved. We realised soon that legal issues and others remain today as strong as ever, if not worse.
“Many ex-prisoners and their families are getting old now and need our support more than ever before. The only service they have is ourselves and we have always been underfunded
“The only reason we can keep this place open is thanks to the support of the local community with their donations and fundraising efforts. “We see at least 100 people per week for appointments. They are looking help and advice on a range of issues such as housing benefits, welfare reform, PIP, bereavement support, debt and money management and others.
“From the very outset, we have had an open-door policy. We work closely with people from the unionist community in Shankill, Mount Vernon, Tiger’s Bay and beyond. We don’t turn anyone away because we want to help people living in all areas of high poverty. People from both sides of the communities have the same issues that they need help and advice over.”
Tar Isteach also carries out its own research and assists research projects investigating the experiences of ex-prisoners their families and issues affecting them.
An overall aim for the future remains to bring about change and improve social and economic conditions, advance education oppportunities, work for the relief of poverty, the relief of unemployment and to promote the protection and preservation of health among ex-prisoners and their families in North Belfast.
“Everything is precarious with our funding situation. We are running this service with minimum funding and no wages. What keeps us and the rest of the staff going is the tremendous support out there for the service we provide who donate money to us,” added Tommy.

Contact Tar Isteach today on Tel: 02890746665 or email: info@taristeach.org

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