By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A leading member of Sinn FTin, Assembly member Conor Murphy, was denied entry to attend a recent Noraid dinner in New York.
But while U.S., Irish and British officials offered various reasons as to why Murphy, the Assembly member for Newry and Armagh and a rising star in the party, was barred from attending the fund-raiser, the reason for the visa denial appears to have been simple bad timing.
Murphy apparently applied late for a visa waiver that would have allowed him to attend the dinner.
Unionist and British officials have argued that the denial is an example of the U.S. government getting tough with Sinn Fein over its failure to join the Northern Ireland policing board and lack of further decommissioning since last November.
This view was reflected in some Irish and British newspaper reports.
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Murphy, who has visited the U.S. on several occasions since the 1997 IRA cease-fire, is required to apply for the visa waiver because of a conviction in the early 1980s for IRA membership.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told reporters while attending the World Economic Forum in New York that he had no idea why Murphy had been denied the visa.
Since Sept. 11, the “net has a finer mesh,” one official familiar with the visa waiver process said.
Irish officials have inquired if the U.S. government would target people with a paramilitary past and have ascertained that cases will still be looked at individually with no huge emphasis placed on past republican or loyalist paramilitary association.
In Murphy’s case, however, officials have indicated that that his application may not have been received in a timely fashion.
Murphy’s application for a visa waiver would have to have been received by the U.S. consulate in Belfast much earlier than in years past for proper processing because of increased security measures post Sept. 11. It wasn’t.
“It was a technicality as far as we’re concerned,” said Rita O’Hare, Sinn FTin’s representative to the U.S.
O’Hare, meanwhile, is due to attend Wednesday’s official opening in Washington, D.C., of the new Northern Ireland Bureau offices.
Wednesday’s NIB opening will be conducted by Trimble and the Northern Assembly’s deputy first minister and SDLP leader Mark Durkan. The opening is just one event on a packed schedule for the Assembly duo who attended the World Economic Forum in New York last weekend.
While in Washington, Trimble and Durkan will meet with U.S. special envoy to the North, Dr. Richard Haass. In addition, the men are scheduled to have lunch with Washington Post editorial staff and with members of the House International Relations subcommittee on Europe. They will also have talks with Sen. Hillary Rodham-Clinton.
Top of the visits list is one to the White House where they will meet with the Bush administration’s national security advisor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice.