Joe Black and his family, living and working in Belfast, were enroute to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for participation in a family wedding, when Joe Black was detained and arrested by the FBI and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers on Wednesday, July 7, 2004.
The following is an interview with Diane V. Byrnes, Producer and Host of Echoes of Erin, of Pittsburgh radio WEDO with Sean McClorey, Joe’s brother-in-law.
SMC: Good morning Diane.
DVB: Good morning Sean, how are you?
SMC: We’re fine, thanks Diane.
DVB: First of all let me tell you it was a brilliant wedding yesterday. Erin and Daryl were so beautiful and handsome as were all the girls and the whole bridal party.
SMC: It was the ‘day of her life’, it was absolutely beautiful! The ceremony was beautiful, the reception was beautiful, and everybody had a wonderful time.
DVB: Tell us about Joe Black.
SMC: Joe was traveling with Geraldine, Clare his eldest daughter who was a bridesmaid, and Broana and Colum; they were scheduled to bring the gifts up at the Mass. Joe himself was supposed to do the second reading, which turned out to be one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. But in any event, he was detained in Philadelphia on the basis that he had misrepresented some information on his visa application and was arrested on that basis. He has been held in the Federal Detention in Philadelphia ever since.
I talked to his lawyer this morning who has not been able to talk to him since Friday. In fact it took until Friday for Danny McElhatton to gain access to him. In the meantime we had made representations through the Irish President’s office, the Prime Minister’s office, Senator Kennedy’s office, our own Congressman’s office, Doyle’s office, to make representations on his behalf. The Irish Consulate succeeded in making contact with him on Friday. Happily he has the facility of talking to our consulate on a regular basis. They have access to him, and he has access to them.
Without going into the technical details, what they are referencing are incidents that took place back almost 30 years ago, actually 28 years ago. The message is if you were involved in any aspect of resistance to Britain’s domination in Ireland, then you cannot come into the United States without running afoul of the authorities on the basis of this extensive Patriot Act which seems to afford the American authorities unbelievably wide, wide powers of arrest and detention. All the old rules are off. And where as we understand that America is under threat, under real and present threat from people who intend to do harm, Irish people represent no threat whatsoever to the United States. And so at this moment in time, everything that went on yesterday was just perfect except the absence of Joe. We are extremely worried. We are more worried about the fact that it is making the media at home. Privacy is a big issue at home and to the extent that Joe’s business and life depends on his ability to travel across all communities in Belfast, the success of his business depends on it. His wife Geraldine is a nurse in the city and that involves a certain public exposure also. The headlines at home are generally in the gutter presses, like the Daily Mirror and The Star in Dublin. These are newspapers you wouldn’t wrap fish in, but have wide circulation. The fact that this information got out to the media so rapidly - this information was in the Philadelphia papers first thing Thursday morning, which means that this federal agency, whatever it is, shot this information out to the associated press wires immediately. They clearly want to make a public issue out of this.
DVB: Sean, is there anything my listeners can do?
SMC: Call the Congressmen, call our State Representatives, and call our US Senators. Just make the calls and stay tuned for further details. At some point or another we are going to have to raise the public profile of Joe’s position. At this moment in time, just get the information out and as widely as possible. Thank you Diane for this facility also.
DVB: Sean, you know you can always utilize Echoes of Erin. As America being a broker for the Good Friday Peace Agreement, it almost means nothing now.
SMC: As Dennis Roddy pointed out in his article on Saturday, the most recent high profile visitor we had from Belfast, was the Mayor Belfast, Alex Maskey. As you know Alex and I were great colleagues back in the early days. He had been able to travel in and out of the United States and now I’m wondering.
I think what our listeners need to understand, the question that Joe was asked ‘was he ever convicted’ of a crime involving ‘moral turpitude’? And so I would ask your listeners to go to the dictionary and look up the technical definition of the word ‘turpitude’. Then it would become clear that he was never guilty of a crime of ‘moral turpitude’ as were any Irish Republicans.
DVB: Well Sean, I’m sorry to cut you short. It was great meeting your families from Ireland.
SMC: Thanks Diane and God Bless.