BY JOHN SARGE
DETROIT - "As long as there is partition there will be [Irish] Northern Aid," said Gerry Coleman, the organization's political education director, in summing up the challenges before more than 100 people who gathered here May 21 and 22 for its Annual General Meeting.
Irish Northern Aid (NORAID) is an organization that for the past 28 years has campaigned in the United States against the British occupation of Northern Ireland, for reunification of the country, and in defense of the Irish republican movement. Its central activity is raising funds to support the families of Irish political prisoners and now to help finance organizations working on the reintegration of political prisoners into the population. Coleman gave the report on political action at the meeting.
Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the largest Irish republican party in Ireland, sent greetings to the meeting describing how for two months the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the paramilitary police force in the British- controlled north of Ireland, had been sitting on a file of 150 names of nationalists targeted by loyalists (pro-British forces) for attack without informing them. He urged Irish Northern Aid to keep up its work in support of the Irish freedom struggle.
There was a lot of discussion on the present stage in the fight to implement the political settlement called the Good Friday Agreement. It was reached last year between the British government, Unionists (those who support continued British control of the six northern counties of Ireland), and nationalist forces who demand a British withdrawal. Unionist forces sought to block the process, including trying to stall the release of political prisoners projected under the agreement.
Coleman pointed to the successful U.S. tour earlier this year of representatives of the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee and raised ideas for future tours by Irish nationalists. He described hearings held by a U.S. Congressional committee on abuses by the RUC and a follow-up hearing held at the Albany Law School in New York State, urging others to plan similar meetings.
Christy Ward reported on the campaign to protest the honorary Doctor of Letters degree being given to David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, by Boston College May 24. Trimble is a key figure in efforts to stop implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
In a report on Irish political prisoners, Rosaleen Doherty described the strides made over the last year in winning prisoner releases. Although many have been freed, she pointed out there are still more than 100 Irish political prisoners, 88 in the Long Kesh prison in Belfast, 22 in Portlaoise Prison, and Richard Johnson in the United States.
Johnson was just transferred to a halfway house in the Boston area to prepare for release. He has spent 10 years in U.S. prisons after being arrested in 1989 by the FBI for "conspiracy" to violate the Arms Control Act. He completes his sentence, in full, this fall.
Róisín Kelly a staff member of Tar Anall, a organization of former political prisoners, attended the gathering. She described how her organization sprang up to aid the released political prisoners fight discrimination and to get reestablished, as well as working with other Irish republicans still incarcerated as they prepare for release. Kelly reported on the newly formed umbrella group, Coiste na nIarchimi, made up of 20 local ex-prisoners organizations.
Jack Kilroy spoke about attempts by the U.S. government to begin using secret "evidence" in deportation cases. NORAID is asking that "no secret evidence be used in U.S. courts," he explained. The meeting got an update on one case where secret evidence was threatened but not used. Noel Cassidy, an Irish nationalist fighting deportation from the United States reported on the latest court ruling against him.
Adams's message and many reports stressed the importance of expanding the readership of the NORAID newsletter and the Irish People, a weekly newspaper published in New York. NORAID leaders reported that the organization has grown to about 55 local units, with new units springing up in traditional areas like northern New Jersey and in new cities such as Houston.
The organization also passed a resolution demanding an independent, international investigation into the murders of Irish civil rights lawyers Rosemary Nelson and Pat Finucane because of the evidence of RUC collusion in their deaths. Nelson was killed on March 15, 1999, by a car bomb and Finucane died a decade ago.
The gathering ended with a speech by Rita ÓHare, Sinn Fein representative in the United States. Next year's general meeting will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
John Sarge is a member of the United Auto Workers and the Detroit Unit of NORAID.
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