(en) "Syracuse NORAID Unit Among the Oldest," PNL 9/97

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Tue, 26 Aug 1997 21:18:29 +0000


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------- Forwarded Message Follows ------- Date: Tue, 26 Aug 1997 22:20:17 -0400 (EDT) From: "Nancy K. Rhodes" <nkrhodes@mailbox.syr.edu> To: media-l@tao.ca Subject: "Syracuse NORAID Unit Among the Oldest," PNL 9/97 (fwd) Reply-to: media-l@tao.ca

The following appears in the September 1997 issue of the Peace Newsletter (PNL), published monthly by the Syracuse Peace Council, Syracuse, New York/USA.

POW ISSUE MAY PROVE DAUNTING IN CNY SYRACUSE NORAID UNIT AMONG THE OLDEST Nancy Keefe Rhodes

"They have been nothing but treacherous up till now," says Patrick Smith about British behavior toward Irish political prisoners. He has watched that behavior a long time. In 1971, he and about 40 Central New Yorkers organized a relief group for Irish prisoners' families. In 1965 he came to Syracuse from County Cavan, Ireland. Raised among Catholics and Protestants in a "mixed" area, he is clear the Irish conflict is not at heart a religious fight. In New York City, the Irish Northern Aid Committee (NORAID) formed the same month in 1971. Within weeks the two groups affiliated, making Syrcause's NORAID unit among the oldest.

Food, Not BombsNORAID supplies most funding for An Cumann Cabhrach (the Republican Aid Committee) in Dublin, which subsidizes the Belfast-based Green Cross. Prisoners' families get a small weekly subsidy. In past years, local NORAID often raised $5-6,000 annually for this purpose. Building CNY support for prisoner families has often been rough and lonely going.

"The press villified us," Smith says. "It's a bit better now down at the Syracuse papers, but lots of people still think our money goes for guns. Every time they'd read something, people would drop out. They'd say, well, maybe we were wrong. I could show you a stack of letters we wrote and they'd never print them. The Feds used to call our homes, even call people out of work. Just, you know, ask them questions to scare them. 'Do you know NORAID supports terrorists? Do you know what the money's going for?'"

Sue Ellen Smith met Patrick in 1979 and they married in 1990. She says, "It took me years to become really committed. I'd read something negative and I'd wonder too. But I was appalled that anyone did not have food. There's people who still need help."

In 1989, Patrick Smith was arrested in the parking lot of an Erie Boulevard eatery in the company of a decade-long NORAID member. He relates, "When they were questioning me they brought out my file. They said, 'Well, look at it.' I'm not exaggerating, it was three inches thick. There's phone conversations, embarassing things like Sue Ellen talking with her sisters about being in labor. They had guys coming to meetings with wires. This one set me up. He says he can get a couple guns and I thought, well, my daughters could use them for protection. I meet him that night, and he says, 'We can make a lot of money on this!' I say, 'What do you mean? I want no part of that. I just want the two we said.' So he says, 'I can't do it here, come out back.' I'm moving my car and a shotgun comes right in the window. I look over and cops have him on the ground. But when they took me in, he was nowhere to be seen. Gone. That guy's still in Syracuse too. I got five years probation, two months house arrest. The judge said I was investigated for three years for 'border violations'!"

Peace Talks Resuming

This month on the 15th, having brokered the new Irish Republican Army (IRA) cease-fire on July 20, the Sinn Fein party enters re-opened Irish peace talks. Although dissent exists about both the cease-fire's wisdom and the talks' chances, Sinn Fein's getting in is itself regarded as a triumph. Sinn Fein participation also boosts prison issues enormously. The party's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, served prison time, as did several on Sinn Fein's team at the talks. It was inside Long Kesh prison that Gerry Adams, under the name "Brownie," began arguing for a political solution years ago in columns smuggled out for publication. They take with them into the talks the trust of Patrick Smith and others who believe the British will never change voluntarily.

There are over 400 Irish republican prisoners in the North of Ireland, the 26 Counties of the South, in England, and even several in the US. Two hundred are serving life sentences. Some have 35-40 year sentences. Almost 100 await trial "on remand." In the US, besides several serving time, the "deportees" and recently jailed "H-block 3" fighting extradition claim political refugee status.

Critical for the peace talks, republicans declare any settlement must release the prisoners. Signals defining the POWs as full participants in the peace process have abounded. Ten days into the cease-fire, Sinn Fein began a series of well-publicized visits to consult with imprisoned republicans throughout Irealnd and England. Adams hosted a major Associated Press interview at a POW family drop-in center. Well-known ex-POW Martin Ferris accompanied Adams to meet with Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam. Prisoner support campaigns have relaunched. NORAID's national US newsweekly, the Irish People, recently proposed massive foundation funding for prisoners re-entering communities.

Such embrace has its price in the largely pro-British US press. Several major US newspapers have resumed identifying Irish republicans one-dimensionally as "IRA-supporters." When Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Caomhghin OCaolain (kwe-veen o-cay-lawn) visit the US September 2-7, they represent the third largest political party in the North of Ireland and the only "all-Ireland" party. When meeting Congressional leaders in Washington, Adams and McGuinness are themselves recently elected MPs, Members of Parliament. OCaolain is a TD, member of the Dail (the national legislature of the South). Then they will separately travel to rallies in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco. During his 24-hour visit to San Francisco, McGuinness will visit the "H-block 3" in jail.

Many Irish Americans were recently buoyed by the national day of action on July 12 protesting forced sectarian marches (see PNL 8/97). Syracuse's Red Branch rally at the federal building, hastily organized in three days, was joined by NORAId and Ancient Order of Hibernians. The rally drew close to 100 people, holding its own with rallies in larger US cities that day, and made the front page of the Irish People. Smith hopes this and Sinn Fein's US tour prior to the peace talks lead to revitalized organizing work here and elsewhere.

1985 a Watershed Year Fear of controversy has characterized much Irish immigrant striving for respectability. In 1985, NORAId was in 16 countries and there were 125 units in the US. There were 1400 Irish republican prisoners.

"You have to remember there was heavy IRA military action that year," Patrick Smith says. "They were firing rockets at Parliament, trying to get the British to see they couldn't win this thing, that they would have to sit dwon with the Irish. But it meant NORAID was feeding 7,000 people a week. The families refused to go on the dole, to beg money from the Brits. At that point, 2300 Irish people had been killed. Per capita, that is eight times the number of Americans killed in Viet Nam."

In 1985, NORAID was not allowed to march in Syracuse's St. Patrick's Day Parade nor to have a booth at the State Fair.

"We just jumped in and marched anyway," says Patrick Smith. "We'd marched the year before. We were at the Fair too, selling tee-shirts and baby dresses. Members like Maurice Shanahan helped -- he was well knowm, part of the labor movement, a church goer. He came to Syracuse in 1928. As a boy he was a Volunteer, running messages in the civil war in Ireland in 1918, 1920. We were the only NORAID unit in the US not allowed to march in the St. Patrick's parade. But there is still some of that around the country today, festivals and whatnot where they say they can't 'be political.' The British will play on that fear people have."

The H-Block 3 Patrick and Sue Ellen Smith were talking in their kitchen on August 12, the day after the H-block decison. They worry that these men and the "deportees" will need NORAID help too, though Sinn Fein's US tour could generate critical timely support for them all.

In 1983, 38 prisoners in Long Kesh escaped. On August 11, Judge Charles Legge ruled in federal district court in San Francisco that the British could extradite the "H-block 3" -- Pol Brennan, Kevin Barry Artt and Terry Kirby -- back to the North of Ireland. In their early 40's, two have since married US citizens and have children; Artt is engaged.

Judge Legge also revoked their bail, though they've complied with bail conditions set since January 1996. If bail is not reinstated, they could stay in prison two or three years in the next phase of their appeal. They argue that return to Long Kesh denies their refugee status and violates the 1986 US-UK extradition treaty exempting those who face threats to their human rights due to nationality, religion or political beliefs. A fourth H-block escapee, Jimmy Smyth, lost his US court fight in 1996. Despite British assurances of his safety to the US, Smyth was singled out and beaten by Long Kesh guards last spring when a tunnel-in-progress was discovered under the prison.

Patrick Smith says that release is not negotiable in any peace settlement. "We won't see them abandoned."

According to one of the North's leading criminologists, Kieran McEvoy of Queen's University, there is also no legal impediment to freeing political prisoners. In fact, he says prisoner releases have precedents for 500 years in resolving political conflict. ..... Nancy is a PNL contributing editor. She writes on police violence and human rights.

[PHOTO - Caption: "Irish Americans marched through Tipperary Hill section of Syracuse in May 1981. Two hunger strikers had just died. Patrick Smith, left, carries the NORAID banner. Photo used with permission of PNL subscriber Mike Greenlar, former newspaper photographer."]

[SIDEBAR]

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

On-going Local Participation For CNY NORAID meetings & activities, call Patrick Smith at 469-7635. Red Branch Irish Americans for Justice & Peace meets 7 pm, 1st Thursday of the month at Coleman's Pub; call Pat Ahern at 475-0345.

NORAID National office & the Irish People weekly newspaper at 363 Seventh ave., #405, New York, NY 10001, 212/736-1916, e-mail <73160.40@compuserve.com>, webpage <http://inac.org/>.

H-Block 3 Support Urge their bail be restored. Address letters to: Hon. Charles Legge, US District Court, 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco CA 94105. Mail them to: Morrison & Foerster, Attn.: Mark Danis, 425 Market St., San Francisco CA 94105. Also helpful: letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, FAX 415/896-1107, e-mail <chronletters@sfgate.com> and the Examiner, FAX 415/957-9428, e-mail <letters@examiner.com>.

Sinn Fein's US September 2-7 Visit Contributions payable to "Friends of Sinn Fein" will go to hiring attorneys and other costs of participating in the Mitchell peace talks resuming this month. Mail to: Sinn Fein - Capital Hill, 510 C St., NE, Washington, DC 20002. Website: <http://www.irlnet.com/sinnfein/ index.html>.

New York City rally Fri., 9/5, 7 pm at Roseland.

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