Category: Archive

Irish rally behind McNicholl family

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

McNicholl’s wife, Frances, speaking for the first time since her husband’s arrest, said that his arrest, detention and deportation ad traumatized the couple’s three children. She spoke just before leaving for Baltimore/Washington, D.C. airport Monday from where two of her sons, Sean and Conaill, were due to board an Aer Lingus flight to Ireland.
They were met on arrival by their father, who’d been seized and shackled by agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement outside the family home on the morning of Friday, July 18. He’d been in the U.S. for 19 years.
Frances McNicholl a Derry native but now a U.S. citizen, said that her two sons and her daughter, also U.S. citizens and who range in age from 13 to 18, badly miss their father.
“We’re not doing too good,” she said. “It’s hard to comprehend the whole thing and the children don’t know what’s going on.
“They just want their dad back. This is tearing us apart. None of us want to leave here. This is my children’s home, the only home they have ever known. It all happened so suddenly, I don’t know what can be done.”
McNicholl said she could not understand or accept how the U.S. authorities would now see her husband as a threat to national security.
“They have allowed him to walk the streets for 20 years,” she said. “They always knew where he was and now they say he is a high risk.”
McNicholl met her husband for 30 minutes late last week at the federal detention facility in York, Pa., before he was flown to Ireland. She said he was brought down in chains.
McNicholl said that on the morning her 51-year-old husband was arrested she heard him call her name just after he’d left at 5:30 a.m. for his job as a pipe fitter. She ran down the stairs to the front door. Her son Sean was already at the door and had seen his father being bundled into a car. But by the time she reached the door the agents had driven away with her husband.
“At least the British banged down the doors,” she said. “You knew they were there. These guys were hiding behind cars.”
Sean McNicholl spoke of his own witnessing of the arrest of his father in a statement released through the Federation of Irish American Societies of the Delaware Valley.
“I witnessed my father being kidnapped by strange men from our front door and bundled into an unmarked car,” he said. “I ran down the street after the car but could not catch up to it. I later found out that these people were representatives of the United States government. . . . Can someone from the Bush administration explain what we are to do, now that they have deported our father? . . . Will the Attorney General send a check every week to pay our bills, my little sister’s dental bills, for example?”
Tom Conaghan, president of the FIASDV, said that the Irish-American community in the Philadelphia area had been shocked by the arrest and deportation.
“This is a humanitarian issue,” he said. “It’s a case of a family whose breadwinner was taken from the doorstep. John was a threat to nobody.”
He added that the federation is planning to organize fundraisers to aid the McNicholl family, but in the meantime a fund has been set up to meet the family’s more immediate financial needs. He said checks should be made out to the Philadelphia Family Defense Fund and mailed to 7 South Cedar Lane, Upper Darby, PA 19082.
The deportation of John McNicholl was the culmination an eight-year battle with U.S. immigration authorities. He had been charged with entering the country illegally. A member of INLA during the 1970s, he escaped from the Maze prison outside Belfast in May 1976. He had been on remand facing a murder and attempted murder charge. McNicholl first entered the U.S. in 1984 and lived in Boston with his wife and the first two of the couple’s three children before moving to Philadelphia in 1987.
The INLA has been on ceasefire since 1998 and all its prisoners have been released from custody in Northern Ireland under the provisions of the Good Friday agreement.

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