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Updated Sept. 1, 2003
In the US, Open Season on Irish Political Prisoners
By Tom Madigan, Associate Producer
The Wild Geese Today
It is open season for one-time Irish political prisoners, only five short years after the Good Friday accord that gave so many of them their long-deserved freedom.
The hunting ground is not their former battleground of Northern Ireland, where they once took part in the ongoing struggle to secure peace with justice. These immigrants are being stalked in the United
States by federal officials. I am at once ashamed for our government's actions, done in our names, and fearful for what these actions portend for us.
The Bush administration's actions against these immigrants are unconscionable.
Where does it stop, when individuals who come here seeking asylum live peaceably, create families, pay taxes, and otherwise contribute mightily to their adopted communities and yet can be hauled off in shackles or deported after being swept from their own porches in the cloak of darkness.
I refer specifically to Ciarán Ferry and John McNicholl. Ferry, arrested Jan. 30, is currently held in solitary in Denver, by the United States Justice Department and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE). Ferry faced an asylum hearing Aug. 22, and is to receive the judge's ruling by Oct. 6.
His future in the United States hangs in the balance. On July 18, McNicholl, a former member of the Irish National Liberation Army who had lived here peaceably for decades, was snatched from in front of his house by hiding agents, shackled, and deported the next day.
Both these men had complied with immigration authorities' every request. Both had earned the respect and affections of their neighbors, Ferry in Colorado, McNicholl in suburban Philadelphia. Ferry, in particular, was in the process of completing his residency application, and was in no way attempting to deceive them or surreptitiously gain entry to the United States. In fact, he had permission to work here and was actively seeking permanent residency.
So what's going on here?
When Ferry, 31, and his Irish-American wife went to a 'meeting' in Denver, to what they thought was just another step in the immigration process, he was summarily arrested by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly INS), and hauled off in shackles and chains and soon after, put in a maximum security jail cell, where he still sits.
The official charge against him is "overstaying his visa." You don't keep someone in a maximum security lockup for "overstaying your visa."
The original offense the British authorities charged Ferry with was "Possession of Weapons and Conspiracy to Murder Persons Unknown," when, in fact, his only offense was being a passenger in a car that contained automatic weapons in the trunk.
Ferry was convicted in a British Diplock court, designed to obtain maximum convictions for the state, complete with no juries and biased judges, where the defendant is accorded little or no defense. After serving 7 ½ years of a 22-year sentence, Ferry was released from the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh during the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brokered, in large part by the United States.
There are two major reasons Irishmen come here: First, to escape the persecution in the orphaned six counties of Northern Ireland, and secondly, because they love the United States. They're not terrorists and they don't come here to do harm to Americans or American interests. There has never been and probably never will be a single reported incident where an Irishman was responsible for orchestrating or participating in an act of terrorism against Americans on American soil.
What is most troubling about Ferry's case and that of other Irish political prisoners here is the lack of accountability by the U.S. Justice Department, under the direction of John Ashcroft. John McNicholl, 51, is a former member of the INLA, the Irish National Liberation Army, and Ciaran, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, both of which are NOT on the State Department's list of "Terrorist Organizations." They have been observing the ceasefire mandated by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Why is Ciarán Ferry, a landscaper, being treated more harshly than a common criminal?
McNicholl, who was charged in the shooting death of a policeman in Northern Ireland, and Ferry were associated in some capacity with organizations that stood against the systemic and institutionalized persecution and injustice so much a part of life for Catholics and nationalists in Northern Ireland.
Is every organization that stands against an unjust and unwelcome occupier considered a "terrorist organization"? Or is who they oppose a variable that enters the equation? To the Catholic/Nationalist communities of Belfast, Derry, Armagh and Tyrone and every other Irish county or city still under British rule, the British army is seen as an occupying army and is unwelcome.
So why was John McNicholl, a hardworking pipefitter, deported, and why is Ciarán Ferry, a landscaper, being treated more harshly than a common criminal?
"(Ferry) would be considered a public safety threat," said Tony Rouco, Immigration and Naturalization Service acting assistant director for investigations, told Rocky Mountain News in May, noting that the INS is holding him because of his "association with a known terrorist organization," as well as for overstaying his visa.
If we don't speak out, who among us may be next?
Let us not forget that British forces fought alongside the Americans in the ongoing war in Iraq. It could well be that the heavy-handed treatment of these men is a quid pro quo from George W. Bush to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the President's way of saying "Thank You," and that these Irishmen are simply pawns in a larger military strategy yet to be concluded. In any event, the Bush administration's actions against these immigrants are unconscionable.
We need to forcefully make their case, and spur federal authorities to treat fairly Ferry, Malachy McAllister, Paul Harkin, "The H-Block Four," and others here from Northern Ireland who live in dread that America will turn its back on them.
Ferry is emblematic of them all. By all accounts a kind and generous soul, a man who simply wants to live out his life in peace and quiet with his American wife and daughter and raise a family away from the injustice and hatred that grips his homeland. I urge you to contact your congressional representatives, and let them know that you oppose the government's draconian treatment of these men.
If we don't speak up for them, who will? After all aren't we, as Americans, the conscience of our nation? And further, if we don't speak out, who among us may be next?
WGT Associate Producer Tom Madigan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), Suffolk County (N.Y.), Chapter 8, and The Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC), New York Chapter.
Ciarán Ferry Legal Defense Fund
Irish American Unity Conference
Write to Congress, the President, and State Legislators
FBI offered to free inmate: Ex-IRA member rejected deal, stays in Denver jail, Rocky Mountain News, Aug. 23, 2003
Reject Bogus Claim of Irish Criminal, Rocky Mountain News Editorial, Aug. 28, 2003
Unwelcome in the U.S.: Ghosts from past come back to haunt Irishman's family, Rocky Mountain News, May 12, 2003
Ciarán Ferry Pledge Donation Form
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