By Tom Madigan
What is it about Irishmen, the inside of prisons and freedom? If you asked Ciaran Ferry, currently being held in solitary in Denver, at the pleasure of the United States Justice Department and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he might start out with the following brief story.
Although I've never spoken with him, I have a good idea of how he handles the daily injustice that is his incarceration, that he sees his wife only through Plexiglas, or that hasn't seen his baby girl since he was hauled off in shackles and chains that fateful day back in January, the last of many, when he was cooperating fully with Immigration. If he's true to form, as the many other Irishmen that I've had the pleasure to speak with, he would greet you with a smile and a handshake and confront the situation with that indomitable spirit that is their hallmark, say that better days are coming, that this too shall pass and that we'll all be back together again.
Ferry was in the process of completing his residency application, was in full compliance with the immigration authorities 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. When he 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 BICE (formerly INS) on Jan. 30, 2003 and hauled off in shackles and chains and, soon after, put in a maximum security jail cell. The official charge against him is ``overstaying his visa.''
The original offense the British authorities charged him 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 is the victim of a British Diplock court -- a system designed to obtain maximum convictions for the state, complete with no juries and biased judges, where the defendant is accorded little or no defense. Ferry was convicted in such a court and after serving seven and half years of a 22-year sentence, was subsequently released from the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh after the 1998 Good Friday agreement was brokered. It is now the very spirit and inspiration of this landmark agreement that the United States government, under the direction of the Bush administration using the specious rubric of ``security,'' seeks to repudiate. They've already deported John McNicholl, another Irish political prisoner.
During his incarceration at Long Kesh, Ferry began corresponding with an Irish-American woman who would some day become his wife. After his release, they were married and moved to Andersonstown in West Belfast, Ferry's childhood home.
While living in Andersonstown, the Ferrys were warned repeatedly that they were targeted for assassination by loyalists. They decided to leave and move to the United States for their own safety and that of their baby girl, yet to be born.
There are two major reasons Irishmen come here: First, to escape persecution in the orphaned six counties of Ulster's nine, 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. For the 850 long years they've been languishing under British misrule, most of them have barely been able to eke out survival. The prospect of doing immeasurably better for themselves and their progeny here in America looms large on their horizons.
They don't hate us for our freedom, as do al-Qaeda and the hyper- terrorists of 9/11. So why are Irish political prisoners being targeted now, only five short years after the Good Friday agreement that gave so many of them their long-deserved freedom?
What is so troubling about Ferry's case and that of other Irish political prisoners is the lack of accountability by the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Justice Department under the direction of John Ashcroft. John McNicholl was a former member of the INLA and Ferry, the IRA, 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. So why was John McNicholl deported and why is Ciar/*n Ferry being treated worse than a prisoner of war?
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?
Ciaran Ferry and John McNicholl 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 native Irish in the North. Does that make them terrorists or defenders of their own? What's more, does that preclude them from a ``welcome'' from that Grand Lady in the Bay, beckoning:
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
To agree with the assertion that Ferry is entitled to asylum and that McNicholl was illegally deported is to agree that the British government is largely to blame for the ongoing turmoil in the North of Ireland.
Let's not forget that the British army fought alongside the Americans in the ongoing war in Iraq. Could it be that the heavy- handed treatment of Irish political prisoners is a quid pro quo from George W. Bush to Tony Blair, his way of saying ``thank you'' and that these Irishmen are simply pawns in a larger military strategy that has yet to be concluded?
Contact your congressional representatives and let them know that you oppose the government's heavy-handed treatment of Ciaran Ferry, who simply wants to live out his life in peace and quiet with his wife and daughter and raise a family away from the injustice and hatred that grips his homeland.