By Ray O’Hanlon
The Good Friday agreement mandated the release of prisoners in Northern Ireland who were serving time as a result of the troubles.
Almost all of those prisoners have been freed. But three men who have been "free" longer than anyone else are facing the prospect of renewed imprisonment should they set foot again in Northern Ireland.
Kevin Barry Artt, Pól Brennan and Terence Kirby have been battling British extradition warrants in the California courts for years.
All three are members of a larger group that broke out of the H-Blocks of the Maze prison in 1983.
In the latest twist in this long-running legal saga, the U.S. Ninth Circuit court of Appeals recently issued an order requesting supplemental briefs regarding the GFA’s prison-release program and its relevance or otherwise to the three men, known widely as the "H-Block Three."
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In a response on behalf of one of the men, Kevin Barry Artt, attorneys at the San Francisco law firm of Morrison & Foerster argued that the case against Artt, and effectively the other two escapees, was moot.
"It is moot because under the Good Friday agreement and its implementing legislation, everyone, including Kevin Artt, Pol Brennan and Terence Kirby, was entitled to be released by July 28, 2000, and everyone except Artt, Brennan and Kirby has been released," the attorneys stated in their brief to the court.
"These three men are the last unreleased Good Friday prisoners with extradition cases pending in the United States. The continued custodial claim by the UK government should end just as custody has ended for everyone else under the GFA."
In backing up their argument, the attorneys pointed to the case of former H-Block extraditee Jimmy Smyth. Smyth was returned to Northern Ireland from California only to be released under the GFA in October 1998. He presently lives in the Republic of Ireland.
Another case cited by the lawyers is that of Joe Doherty. Doherty successfully battled extradition for years only to be eventually deported from the U.S. However, he too is now a free man as a result of the GFA.
"There is no legitimate reason for the UK to continue to waste the United States’ taxpayers’ money and this court’s resources pursuing the extradition of Kevin Artt. Revenge is the reason," the attorneys alleged.
They back up their argument by pointing to the time the three men served in Northern Ireland and in California prisons since they were first detained by U.S. authorities in the early 1990s.
They additionally highlight the "bail with restrictions" that has "severely" limited liberty for Terence Kirby in particular in recent years.
Artt had "served his time" and Kirby had been "punished enough," the brief stated.
The British government, meanwhile, has yet to give any signal that it is dropping the extradition proceedings against Artt, Kirby or Brennan.