By Ray O’Hanlon
Joe Doherty’s most fervent political backers in the U.S. were quick to express satisfaction over the release of the man who had spent almost nine years in the nation’s prison system.
"I am absolutely delighted that the day has finally arrived," Doherty’s U.S. attorney, Mary Pike, said this week. "It’s great news, a tremendous relief."
Pike had just spoken by phone to Doherty in Belfast. He had called her from his family home shortly after he was allowed leave the Maze prison.
Pike said that she was hoping to travel to Belfast to meet Doherty "in a while."
She said that he sounded absolutely thrilled to be with his family again but a little dazed by the dramatic turn of events.
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Doherty had been expecting release virtually on a daily basis for the last several weeks.
Pike said that she would also like to see Doherty get a chance to visit New York in spite of the fact that he was deported from the U.S. in 1992.
"To see him standing on a New York Street would be a precious moment for Steve and myself," Pike said in reference to fellow Doherty attorney Steve Somerstein.
Former Mayor David Dinkins was another who spoke with Doherty only a short while after his release.
This time the connection was between Belfast and the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where Dinkins was staying when the moment of freedom came.
"I was ecstatic, just delighted," Dinkins told the Echo. "When I heard of his release I called him right away. We had a long chat. He sounded great. The good guys win one.
"Sometimes things take time to come to pass. It’s important not to quit."
"He was always inspirational. He is a year or two younger than my son and has a lot of life left to live."
He added that he was looking forward to meeting with Doherty again, either in Ireland or the U.S., and would support in any way he could the securing of a U.S. visa for Doherty should he want to come back to New York.
Members of Congress were also quick to welcome the release. Rep. Pete King said he was delighted with the news.
"Joe was brave and eloquent and always handled himself with great class and dignity," he said. "I’m very happy for him."
Rep. Gary Ackerman, who once smuggled a camera into the MCC to be pictured with Doherty, said that he could not be more pleased for Doherty and his family.
"Joe’s personal courage, determination and dignity throughout all these years have shown him to be a man of hope, faith and courage," Ackerman said.
Rep. Eliot Engel said the news of Doherty’s release had brought tears to his eyes. "It’s wonderful. I will do everything in my power to facilitate a visit here," he said.
Engel, who visited Doherty at one point in the Maze prison, said that Doherty should never have been imprisoned in the U.S. and never deported.
Attorney Brian O’Dwyer, whose late father, Paul, was one of Doherty’s most ardent advocates, also praised the release, saying that it represented "a validation of the peace process and a recognition of the resurgence of the political power of Irish America