US activists welcome developments
US activists welcome developments

Irish-American activists have won a battle in the war against the the controversial revised U.S./U.K. extradition treaty during a hearing of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

The treaty was signed in March 2003 by then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and the scandal-plagued British Home Secretary David Blunkett, who has since resigned.

While the most immediate threat is aimed at those who reject the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the treaty was seen a threat to political activists across the board, allowing extradition for alleged behavior occurring years ago by all activists and organizations.

Among concerns voiced at the revised treaty are that it eliminates the existing political offense exception; transfers responsibility for determining whether the extradition request is politically motivated from the U.S. Courts to the political arena; and allows for extradition even if there is no violation of U.S. federal law. The new treaty would also be applied retroactively for offenses allegedly committed even before the ratification of the treaty, affecting scores of republicans.

The controversy over the new treaty first flared up when Francis Boyle, a professor of law at the University of Illinois, publicly aired his concerns over the document.

“No Irish-American activist is safe if this treaty passes,” the Ancient Order of Hibernians said in a statement prior to Tuesday’s hearing.

The treaty has been awaiting a necessary committee hearing before being passed to the full Senate for a ratification vote.

A unanimous vote by the foreign relations panel is required before the treaty goes to the full 100-member Senate for a decision.

AOH National President Ned McGinley welcomed the Senate committee’s decision to delay its hearing.

“We are very pleased that the committee decided to at least open up this treaty to dialogue. We feel that when the American people see its language they will be very concerned,” McGinley said.

McGinley said that his groups had sent in requests to committee members asking them to split the U.S./U.K. treaty from other similar documents currently up for consideration.

The revised treaty, he said, was “loaded up with Patriot Act-type of language” that was “being used to frighten people.”

The U.S. and U.K. had no problem extraditing people under the existing treaty, McGinley added.

“But [the departments of] Justice and State want the same patriot-style language in all extradition treaties,” he said.

McGinley said that he understood the treaty would be taken up separately by the committee in the New Year.

“This treaty was written in the panic response to the horrible terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 by the John Ashcroft Justice Department,” McGinley said.

“Many laws written in haste have lived on to be regretted in the future because they were not thoroughly debated. We would ask this committee to not rush to such judgment when there is no such need.”

  • A panel discussion in Washington DC on Friday involving nationalists, unionists and British officials, was hailed as a source of “great optimism” by the Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC), who sponsored the gathering.

    The moderators of the meeting at Georgetown University were Bruce Morrison, former U.S. Congressman and Presidential Advisor on the Irish Peace Process under the Clinton administration and Edmund E. Lynch, trial attorney and President of the Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland.

    Panelists included British Consul Andrew Pike, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey and Anne Porter of the Ulster Unionist Party.

    After the conference, Bob Linnon, President of IAUC said: “In my many years of working in Irish affairs, this is the first time I have experienced a meeting of Irish political parties and government officials where people with both common and many opposing opinions could discuss, in a constructive manner, methods of resolving these problems.

    “It gives our organization great optimism that with continued hard work these parties can be part of a government that benefits all the people of Ireland.”

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