By Ray O’Hanlon
The bombing in Omagh is not the kind of news that Kevin Barry Artt, Pól Brennan and Terence Kirby wanted to hear. The three extraditees remain locked up in a federal facility in Dublin, Calif. Needless to say, it’s the wrong Dublin. Artt contacted "IF" by phone last week, a day before the Omagh blast. At that point he and the two others were hoping that the expected release of republican prisoners in the North might lead to at least bail and, in the long run, a dropping of British extradition requests. That would seem to be a vain hope at this point.
It’s been a year since the three surrendered to authorities after having their bail revoked. It’s been six months since a hearing for renewed bail was heard by a court. But nothing much is happening at the Pleasanton Federal Detention Center in Dublin as the dog days of August grind on.
"I was hoping that as soon as they started releasing prisoners in Ireland, they would at least release me and the others on bail," Artt said.
The best possible scenario, in Artt’s view, is bail here and being able to appeal his conviction in Northern Ireland in absentia. He still denies a charge of attempted murder, confirmed by a non-jury Diplock Court.
"I got the wrong end of the stick and we’re all still in this limbo. I don’t see the point in the British pursuing these extradition cases and destroying the lives of families over here (Artt has a daughter and an American fiancee) and if they are releasing people over there keeping us in here is sending the wrong message. We turned ourselves in for God’s sake."
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Artt remains hopeful that the extradition cases might get another airing in the context of the upcoming Irish visit by President Clinton. "We’re just insignificant pawns. If Clinton was to say to Blair, let them go . . . "
At this point the phone went dead. Only in recent days has Artt been allowed make collect calls from prison. Some good things happen in the dog days.
Whither the Provos?
A little over two weeks ago, a report in the London-published Observer newspaper on prisoner releases carried a two-line addition at the end. "Meanwhile," the report stated, "republican sources in South Armagh claim that a further 12 Provisional IRA members have defected from the mainstream republican group in Newry to join the dissident Real IRA."
More than one question arises in the wake of Omagh. Will such defections continue? How will the Provisionals react if it emerges that their former comrades were directly involved in the Omagh slaughter?
The New York Post, in an editorial last week, three days before the Omagh blast, suggested that the Provos night be deriving some advantage from various "dissident" operations. Wrote the Post: "The IRA claims that many of these outrages are the work of splinter groups who reject the Agreement and over whom it has no control. But the truth is that the bombings and shootings in Ulster. . . are a convenient way for newly ‘respectable’ terrorists who are engaged in negotiations to keep up the pressure on the other side. Essentially, it is a deadly version of the old good-cop, bad-cop routine: a way of saying "I understand where you’re coming from, but by failing to make more concessions you are annoying my associate and I have no control over what violent things he might do.’ "
Somehow, in the wake of Omagh, the idea of the Provos looking at the splinter groups as being convenient associates rings a little hollow. To see an any advantage at all from Omagh would be plumbing the depths of cynicism even the most hardened Provisionals might describe as alien territory.
Sic Transit Gloria
It was good while it lasted. The Boston Globe is packing in its full-time Irish operation and moving the paper’s Dublin bureau chief and Irish expert, Kevin Cullen, to London. Cullen will still cover Ireland, as well as the rest of Europe, from the British capital. The Globe’s day-to-day Irish operation will likely be covered by stringers in Dublin and Belfast. Cullen will fly in for big stories, the Omagh-size ones. Cullen is still in Ireland this week, so the bean counters in Beantown at least saved an airfare.
Provos in the palace?
"IF" was shocked, SHOCKED, to hear that Queen Elizabeth might be a closet Irish republican or at least that her closest adviser might be a green Roundhead with designs on the royal view of the ever dwedful Oirish question. The Irish News in Belfast last week reported top Orangeman David McNarry as suggesting that her majesty might be taking advice from a republican. McNarry’s statement followed a letter from Buckingham Palace that gave the royal nod of approval to the Northern Ireland Parades Commission in the wake of its decision on Drumcree.
McNarry was particularly prominent in the media during the Drumcree standoff. Nobody noticed him sucking lead pencils or sniffing funny stuff out of tubes. And yet we now have the palace as a nest of Provos. It’s a strange world indeed when you view it through orange-tinted glasses. Next up: black helicopters.
Midnight knock haunts Pataki still
New York Gov. George Pataki is not the first American politician to hear and file away disturbing tales from a grandmother about times in Ireland when the British, er, called the shots. In his newly published autobiography, entitled simply "Pataki," the GOP governor recounts a tale related to him as a child by his grandmother, who came to the U.S. from County Louth. As a young girl, George’s granny remembered a night when British soldiers came to the door looking for one her brothers. Apparently, some of the rebellious locals had delivered a blow for freedom by kicking over headstones in a Protestant graveyard. A very serious view was taken of the offense and the soldiers were sent out to round up the culprits for due punishment — possible transportation in this case, Pataki believes.
Anyway, according to the granny, her mother, Pataki’s great-grandmother, dropped to her knees and pleaded with the soldiers, urging them to believe that her son was not involved in the cemetery caper. The soldiers eventually relented, but Pataki tells writer Daniel Paisner that the arbitrary nature of British rule was permanently impressed on his grandmother that night and that she had passed this view down to him.
"I thought of that night again in 1996, when I signed the Irish Starvation Law, requiring New York public schools to teach students about the discrimination against the Catholics in Ireland, and to consider the nineteenth-century potato famine alongside other violations of human rights, from slavery to the Holocaust. I think of that night still."
Never mess with an Irish granny. This one’s invisible hand was clearly guiding the gubernatorial pen on the day of the signing.