By Andrew Bushe in
Dublin and Ray O’Hanlon
Bernadette Sands McKevitt, the vice chairman and most prominent member of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, has been denied a visa to enter the U.S.
The denial of a visa immediately prompted a charge of censorship by visa denial. Former Noraid spokesman Martin Galvin, who has openly supported the Sovereignty Committee’s campaign against the Good Friday accord in Northern Ireland, said that the denial would result in a campaign in the U.S. similar to that mounted on behalf of Gerry Adams during the 1980s and early ’90s.
The State Department moved in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing to block Sands McKevitt’s application for a visa waiver which would have allowed her enter the country next month for a fundraising and speaking tour.
According to one source, Sands McKevitt was planning to withdraw her application in the wake of the Omagh bombing but the U.S. authorities moved faster.
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Sands McKevitt is a founder member of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee which is regarded as being the political wing of the group calling itself the Real IRA, the dissident IRA faction being blamed for the Omagh blast. She is a sister of Bobby Sands who died on hunger strike in May, 1981.
An embassy spokesman in Dublin said it was not its practice to comment on individual cases. However, it was pointed out that Sands McKevitt’s visit earlier this year was undertaken using an old visa.
“Her old visa is no longer valid and basically she is required to apply for a new visa every time she wishes to travel,” a spokesman said.
Sands McKevitt visited the United States in April to
rally support against the Good Friday agreement and to raise funds for her group which was set up late last year.
However, as matters now stand, that April visit might be the last for some time. And that is giving rise to cries from some Irish Americans that free speech is being denied.
“There is a strong viewpoint that there has to be a way to have the British leave Ireland outside the (Good Friday) agreement. And there has to be a way for this to be debated in the U.S. America stands for free speech,” Galvin said.
Galvin, who flew to Ireland last weekend to meet with Sands McKevitt and others, said that Irish Americans had fought hard against censorship by visa denial.
“Now it seems like it’s being brought back. The past shows us that excluding legitimate views by visa denial is counterproductive. It wasn’t right to exclude Gerry Adams and one day people will be saying the same about this decision to exclude Bernadette Sands McKevitt,” Galvin added.