A Strategy for Irish Solidarity

Against the Current, No. 10, September/October 1987

Bob Nowlan

JOE DOHERTY has never been convicted, or even charged with a crime in the U.S. Yet he has spent the past four years in prison in New York City. Why?

Joe Doherty’s case represents the latest effort of the United States and Britain implementing the year-old Supplementary Extradition Treaty between the two nations.

The new treaty removes the “political offense exception” which had previously barred extradition of those wanted for offenses deemed to be of political nature. The removal of the political offense exception, a time-honored clause which remains present in all eighty-six other extradition treaties to which the U.S. is a party, was designed to return Irish political offenders to Britain where they can be easily railroaded into prison.

Already Doherty, who has been held prisoner in the Manhattan Correctional Center since 1984 on a deportation warrant, has had his request for deportation to the twenty-six county Irish Free State refused by the U.S. Justice Department on the grounds that deportation to any location other than Britain would be “prejudicial to the national interest.” (“Doherty Refused Deportation,” The Irish People, 10 October 1986, 12).

According to lawyers on both sides, this is the first time the “national interest” has been used to block a deportee’s right to designate his country of destination.

Doherty, who was convicted in a British court of killing a British soldier and sentenced to life imprisonment, escaped from the infamous Maze prison (the H-Blocks) in 1981 and fled to the United States. He was eventually arrested, but on December 12, 1984, U.S. District Judge John E. Sprizzo of New York barred his extradition to Britain based on the political exception provision.

Yet shortly thereafter, Doherty was remanded to the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation. Deportation proceedings were held in abeyance during two unsuccessful British appeals of Judge Sprizzo’s ruling.


The new action of the U.S. Justice Department is designed to delay Doherty’s departure from the United States until the British can initiate a new extradition request based upon the supplementary extradition treaty-which eliminates the possibility of political exception for Doherty or any other Irish Republican convicted in British courts for any military action against the British army occupying Ireland.

The treaty includes a retroactivity clause, which explains why Doherty, who had already received a favorable court ruling under the political offense exception, is still fighting in court. This retro-activity clause was also recently used to extradite Liam Quinn, a U.S. citizen wanted by Britain for alleged connection to the killing of an English police officer. Quinn spent over two years in U.S. prison despite early court rulings that he was not subject to extradition because of the political offense exception. The U.S. government continually appealed and on October 20, 1986, with the new extradition treaty in place, Quinn was extradited.

In Quinn’s case, extradition was conducted in great secrecy, not only preventing potential confrontation with protesters, but also depriving Quinn’s family of a final chance to see him before his deportation.

Peter McMullen, who also successfully defeated extradition requests from Britain, currently faces a renewed fight against extradition because of the new treaty. McMullen, originally an IRA member, has since denounced the organization, yet apparently this has not won him any favor with the British.

The intensity with which the British and U.S. governments are pursuing these cases indicates the extent to which the two nations are prepared to wage war against the IRA and nationalist people of the six Irish counties of Antrim, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry.

The new extradition treaty itself passed as the result of a lobbying campaign which saw President Reagan and Secretary of State George Schultz join forces with Prime Minister Thatcher and British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Tom King and editorialists in major newspapers across the United States.

In the end, senators showed themselves all too willing to bow to this pressure, rewriting the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty as a thinly disguised payoff for Margaret Thatcher’s assistance during the U.S. raid on Libya and as an opportunity to appear “tough on terrorism.”

Passage of the supplementary treaty reinforces the U.S. administration’s support for a deal between Prime Minister Thatcher and the now-fallen coalition government of Irish Free State Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald.

The Hillsborough Agreement was professedly designed to better conditions for the nationalist community in the six northern counties. It has in fact led to greater cooperation of British and Free State security forces against Irish Republicans. At the same time, unionist right-wing Protestant backlash against the Agreement has meant increased numbers of sectarian assassinations of Roman Catholics, and extensive destruction of nationalist property.

The U.S. Senate action on the supplementary treaty reinforces the U.S. government’s support of the Hillsborough Agreement as an instrument designed to continue to stave off a reunited and non­aligned Ireland, an entity which the U.S. military regards as a potential security threat to NATO.

Dangerous Precedent

Passage of the supplementary treaty should trouble not only Irish-Americans, but all Americans who prize the civil liberties supposedly “guaranteed” in the U.S. Constitution. As Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, one of the ten to vote against the treaty, has indicated, the retroactive clause in the supplementary treaty “flies in the face of Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, Clause 3 which prohibits bills of attainder and ex-post­facto laws.”

Moreover, the supplementary treaty establishes a dangerous precedent for the other eighty-six extradition treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

In fact, according to Mary Pike, attorney for Joe Doherty, the last extradition treaty signed by the United States — on December 15, 1984, ironically enough, with the Dublin government of the Irish Free State — provides that extradition “shall not be … granted when the offence for which extradition is requested is a political offence” and excludes only one category of offence from this political exception: “reference to a political offence shall not include the taking or attempted taking of the life of a head of state or a member of his or her family.” (“Extradition: a Political Manoeuvre,” Interview with Mary Pike, An Phoblacht/Republican News, 24 July 1986, 10-11).

The new U.S.-British supplementary treaty implicitly equates virtually all acts of physical “violence” against the “legal” status-quo with terrorism, regardless of the political context. It is, therefore, a logical standard for the world’s preeminent imperialist power whose interests lie in maintaining the “legal” status-quo in those nations it considers to be friends and allies.

The logic of the new extradition treaty with Britain indicates that the U.S. government is prepared to virtually ignore all acts of physical violence perpetrated upon a people by a “legal” government while condemning all acts of physical violence by “illegal” movements to overthrow oppressive governments.

In assessing the impact of the supplementary treaty’s passage, however, it would appear that the biggest losers, aside from Doherty, McMullen and Quinn are the American Irish Republican groups that fought to prevent Senate ratification. The July 17th vote represents a significant setback for the American Irish Republican solidarity movement.

This movement has been substantially growing since the 1981 hunger strike deaths. For instance, the once reviled Irish Northern Aid has begun to break out of isolation in its support to families of Republican prisoners.

The Road Forward

However, this defeat can be instructive. It should become increasingly obvious that the kind of polite, strictly legal lobbying campaign-letters, phone calls and visits to senators’ offices; letters to the editor and paid advertisements in major daily newspapers is likely to have only very limited effect in changing American policy. Even more importantly, it has limited impact on American attitudes about the war in Northern Ireland.

Now is a time for militant educational action, American supporters of the Irish Republican struggle must actively contest dominant representations of the IRA, explain the IRA ‘s actions and how support for the Republican position provides the best promise for an eventual lasting resolution of the problem of Northern Ireland.

First, it is important for American supporters of the Irish Republican-struggle to contest insipid St. Patrick’s Day caricatures of Irish people, Irish history, and Irish culture that trivialize and ignore eight hundred years of Irish struggle against British colonization.

It is important to contest notions of the Irish language as a quaint oddity which is nearly extinct today as a result of a “natural” decline, by explaining the history of a deliberate and sustained British effort to destroy the Irish language. Even today, the nee-colonial Dublin government has opposed the popular Irish language revival.

It is also important to contest caricatures of the struggle in Northern Ireland as a “religious war” or as a battle between “terrorism” and “democracy.”

Second, American supporters of the Irish Republican struggle must contest the subtle yet effective way in which the Irish Republican struggle is so often represented to the American public from the perspective of British imperialism, with the IRA as a bunch of sadistic, psychopathic terrorists, Northern Ireland in ruins because of anachronistic hatred of Irish Catholics for Irish Protestants and Irish Protestants for Irish Catholics.

This view justifies the British army of occupation and British martial law as humane intervention between religious factions which would otherwise destroy each other in civil war.

Yet engagement in this kind of ideological contestation is not enough. If American supporters of the Irish Republican struggle ever hope to exert a significant influence on American policy concerning Northern Ireland, it is necessary to make Northern Ireland a matter of urgency to Americans who are not of Irish descent.

As long as the American Irish Republican solidarity movement remains isolated from solidarity with other national liberation and regional self-determination movements, it becomes easy for those in power to dismiss Irish-Americans as “only” an “ethnic” ”special interest group.


American Irish Republican organizations have established only very limited connections with other solidarity movements to date, and this is perhaps the area where socialists working within the Irish American movement can have the greatest impact.

To be sure, there certainly remains a substantial amount of work to be done in consolidating and coordinating support for the Republican struggle among Irish­ American groups (many of which, admittedly, remain only tepidly supportive, indifferent, and even hostile to today’s Irish Republican struggle). But it is also necessary and possible to plan coordinated actions with movements in support of freedom for the peoples of southern Africa, Palestine, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

An important example of making the necessary connections was a statement of Irish support for the April 25-27 mobilization in Washington, D.C. against U.S. intervention in Central America and complicity with apartheid. The statement appeared in Irish Northern Aid’s paper Irish People as well as Irish Echo, the largest Irish community paper in New York. The statement, expressing solidarity with the liberation struggles in southern Africa and Central America and the parallels with the struggle in Northern Ireland, was signed by Gerry Adams for Sinn Fein, the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, and labor leaders in Ireland as well as the U.S. Irish movement.

It is particularly important for American socialists involved in the Irish Republican solidarity movement to stress the connections between British and American imperialisms. This is certainly no easy task.

Today the predominant tendency within American Irish Republican organizations is to ignore those connections. The educational task at hand demands a break with an Anglophobic mindset which blames all of the problems of Northern Ireland on the villainy and duplicity of British governments, British soldiers, and British people.

Socialist Perspective

Socialists active within the American solidarity movement need to make the supplementary extradition treaty an object lesson on the limitations of ethnic isolation and conventional liberalism. Ratification of the treaty-with the support of as many Democrats as Republicans is only the latest in a series of “bipartisan” initiatives in support of British imperialism.

Socialists need to draw the attention of American supporters of the Irish Republican struggle to the stated aims of the Irish Republican movement, which views itself as a revolutionary democratic socialist movement. As such it is engaged in a campaign of urban guerilla warfare against Britain, and actively supports revolutionary socialist/ anti-imperialist national liberation and regional self-determination movements throughout the world.

It must be clearly understood that the Provisional IRA are not simply nationalists; they are socialists and internationalists as well.

Clearly the most effective way for socialists to have an impact upon the future direction of the American Irish Republican solidarity movement is to join forces and to work actively within the movement in solidarity with the Irish Republican struggle.

U.S. Senate passage of the supplementary extradition treaty demands a militant response from American supporters of the Irish Republican struggle. And this demand presents an opportunity to push the American Irish Republican solidarity movement in a revolutionary democratic socialist direction.

September-October 1987, ATC 10

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