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Pol Brennan Interview (March 17, 1999)

I was born in 1953 in Belfast, and grew up in an area called Ballymurphy, which is West Belfast. That area was built primarily for people returning from the war. It was basically low cost housing. Where we grew up was mixed, predominately Catholic, but still mixed. In the late sixties when The Troubles started, the areas began polarizing, the Protestants moved out or were forced out by the pressure of the politics of the time. A great deal of animosity was being thrown up by the likes of Rev. Ian Paisley, a rabid right wing Unionist cleric. The city of Belfast was dividing, as the Catholics came to congregate in West Belfast and the Protestants in mainly North and East Belfast. Up until the late 60's and early 70's it wasn't so polarized, because there were many families of opposite religious affiliation living in one another's neighborhoods. The Catholics went to Catholic schools run by the Church, the Protestants went to state school. It's still done, but it's beginning to break down a little now. The Catholics put a great deal of effort into maintaining their schools and keeping control of them. I wasn't brought up a Republican, I guess you could say a Nationalist. I was aware, because every so often the political pendulum would swing back one way or the other. The Troubles would revisit us. We had what was known as The Troubles in the 20's, the 40's and in the 50's. The Troubles were always a little pocket of time when things bind up again.

Were you the first person in your family interned or arrested?

In my immediate family, I was. If you were interned, you were picked and held without charge usually for suspicion of political affiliations. I was interned in April 1974, held for 11 months without charge and released in the Spring of 1975. In September, 1976, I was caught on an operation with explosives and guns. I received a 16-year sentence.

During that time, the British had commenced to take away the special category or political status that the Republicans had won in 1972. From 1974 onwards the British reappraised the situation in the North, and decided on a massive campaign to smash the Republican resistance. It was basically a three-pronged attack. One was the Normalization Policy which was loosely based on the pattern used in Viet Nam, which slowly shifted the balance of power away from the British army to the local paramilitary police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and the local militia which was the Ulster Defense Regiment. The Brits wanted and pushed them to take over security. That was the Normalization Policy. A second prong was the Criminalization Policy, which was to portray the resistance as a criminal conspiracy, rather than the broad-based political movement against the British presence in the country. They maintained that those that those in the armed struggle were in it for their own gain. A lot of phraseology like the “Godfathers of Terrorism” began to crop up.

So you could be arrested or detained on the basis of your associations?

Yes. Then they had a policy of moving people through the legal system.

Was that your first arrest?

No, I had been arrested many times before. This was my first bust, actually, with material that could lead to a conviction.

But your very first one back in '74 —

That was internment. They just picked me up and put me in jail without charge. Many young men were in jail at that time. But there were two kinds of systems going. One was that you could be picked up and put in jail on the observation that you were politically active.

Who did that? The constabulary?

The Brits, the cops. They called it security forces. Then there was the other system, when you were caught doing something, and they convicted you in non-jury courts. You were sentenced. It was the sentenced people who won the right to political status with protections under the Geneva Convention as a result of a hunger strike in 1972. The internees automatically had political status, because obviously they were interned for political reasons.

Were you interned at the same prison you later escaped from?

No, that prison was one that was initially built as an interment camp with Quonset huts, they call them Nissan huts in Ireland. There was what was called the internment end of the camp. They built different huts. Then they had what was called the top end of the camp, which was for convicted prisoners. Around '74-'75, they did away with the internment camp and built the H-Blocks. This new prison within a prison used to be called Long Kesh until it was renamed the Maze. This was to try and confuse people into thinking it was a different place. The H-Blocks were built specifically as part of the plan to criminalize our struggle. It was a legal conveyer belt, where they would pick people up, beat a confession out of them in the interrogation centers which were admissible in the courts. They physically beat the crap out of them, youngsters, a lot of them still in their teens.

Were they professional beatings?

Totally professional by the Brits and the RUC. The trained interrogators really knew what they were doing, slap these kids around and beat confessions out of them in the end. The confessions held up in the non-jury courts and they got 20 years or life. The next thing you know, they're moved to the H-Blocks, these young Republicans, and because they wanted us to accept the mark of criminality by wearing prison uniforms and do prison work, we protested by wearing only blankets for years.

You were in at the time of the hunger strikes?

Yeah, we were in at the time of the blanket protest, the no wash or dirty protests and the hunger strikes between 1977 and 1981. We went through all that. After the deaths, we changed our tactics and became compliant prisoners in order to lull the prison staff into a false sense of security.

By 1983, we were positioned to take full advantage of our lying low. The escape was planned and executed. Thirty eight of us escaped. It nearly brought down the government and was a major boost to the Nationalist population, because they were going through a hard time because of snitches or as it was called, SuperGrass activity. On the word of one informer they could put 30 or 40 people away. If they'd catch someone out on something, they'd put pressure on them to turn. Cold war tactics of pitting people against their own.

Did they work on you in prison with lectures and propaganda?

No, no. We had created such a problem for the authorities that they had to isolate us, so we were on our own.

How many people are we talking about?

Three to four hundred. There were some who deviated, who couldn't stay on the protests and left. They transferred them into their ongoing program along with the men who were normal prisoners, or “ordinary, decent criminals” as they were called.

So in other words, they co-operated and they were put in with the regular population? And they would get out earlier and so forth?

That was the idea, because they took all of our remission or good time away and all of our privileges such as our mail, access to radios, visits etc. Everything became a privilege.

How long did that last?

Four years.

So you were in at the time of the famous Bobby Sands strike?

Bobby Sands was my cell mate for 3 or 4 months.

Had you known him on the outside?

No, I knew him in Crumlin Road Jail. I saw him often when I was there, we had three or four personal friends in common.

In 1983 when we escaped, thereafter I lived in the south of Ireland for a year, on the run. During that time there was a massive manhunt for us. In the fall of '84, I found my way over here to the Bay Area and began to live a quiet life. I thought I was going to be here only for a couple of years, but time moved quicker than anticipated. It was the first normalcy in my life in a very long time.

How old were you when you first went in?

About eighteen. Eighteen or nineteen in the early '70's. But I lived here in the U.S. quietly for ten years between the ages of thirty and forty. One morning the FBI busted me outside my house for a passport application I had made.

Oh, I thought you were inside the passport office when they arrested you?

No, I had made an application and was expecting it to come in the mail.

So you made your way over here and lived almost a decade?

Yes, in and around Berkeley. Just lived a normal life, doing various jobs.

Did you think that they were actually looking for you?

Well, six months before my arrest, two of my compatriots and fellow escapees Jim Smyth and Kevin Artt were picked up, one in San Francisco, the other in San Diego. Thereafter, I was apprehensive that they were on the look out for us. I think there was some sloppiness by Smyth and they followed up on that.

Did the FBI have a unit that devoted attention to Irish nationalists?

Definitely. I had obtained a US birth certificate, Social Security number, drivers license and US passport, my new identity was pretty well covered. I'd been living and working without trouble for 10 years. We were going on a vacation out of the country and I couldn't find my passport. I thought that applying for a duplicate would not trip any alarms. But Smyth and Artt had been in custody for six months and the Bay Area was being watched. I should have known better. It was clear that they didn't know who I was when they arrested me though, because they didn't search our house until the report came back from Interpol. I think they figured they'd snagged an illegal alien. Four days later they were back in force, a dozen Feds sifting through the house inch by inch.

After I got busted and for the next three years while we waited for my case to come up (Smyth's case was going first), they shipped me around to different jails in the Bay Area. Santa Rita, Oakland City Jail, North County Jail and eventually to the Federal Detention Center in Dublin. In January, 1996, even the judge agreed that it was taking too long and unexpectedly granted us bail which surprised us as much as anyone. We were out on house arrest for about 20 months and during that time our extradition hearings were held. We lost, Judge Legge deemed us extraditable and tossed us back into Federal custody. We spent another 14 months inside until the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Legge's decision last October. So here we are now. The three of us have separate cases, separate attorneys arguing separate and distinct issues as well as some obviously overlapping ones. My lawyers have always been confident.

My main issue on appeal is that I was busted in Belfast with possession of guns and explosives. Possession is not an extraditable offense under the Extradition Treaty which was what was used against us in Legge's courtroom. It was a treaty concocted by Reagan and Thatcher. A lot of Republicans who were stripped of their liberties in Ireland were coming here and claiming political defense against extradition. Thatcher wanted to close that loophole, so in exchange for allowing the US to use British airspace in the bombing of Libya in '86, the US passed the Supplemental Extradition Treaty which did away with the political defense clause that had been used by Republicans up until that time. They basically cut up the original treaty, removing protections which had been there since the 1700-1800's. It dated back to the Revolution, against Britain. America had a strong tradition of sanctuary for politically active people who were fleeing persecution in their homelands. Judge Legge used the new revised treaty to rule that we should be extradited. My original offense is not listed as an extraditable offense under that treaty and the 9th Circuit agreed. They are sending me back to Legge to be heard under the earlier treaty which does allow for a political defense. They ruled that even though Artt and Kirby do fall within the new treaty, Legge should have allowed them to bring evidence against their original convictions. So probably we'll each be back before him sometime this year.

Where were all the Irish American organizations at the time? Did they put pressure on Reagan?

The Reagan administration was closely tied to Thatcher. They were both arch- conservative, so there was very little sway. The US State Department has always been very anglophilic, as has been the Justice Department. Reagan was certainly in bed with Thatcher politically. It has only been in the last five or six years since the Clinton administration has been in power, that political Irish-American organizations and certainly Sinn Fein and the Friends of Sinn Fein have garnered enough support to help swing the pendulum back. Certainly Clinton and his policies on Ireland have been somewhat more productive. His administration has opened a lot of doors for the Irish. That momentum and a sympathetic 9th Circuit panel along with some luck may mean that we will win our extradition battles.

You certainly seem to have the logic and the justice of the situation with you.

We have good issues and we were incredibly lucky in who ended up on our 9th Circuit panel. There are over 20 justices and it's just the luck of the draw which three you get. We also have had truly excellent legal representation.

Legge's decision was an odd decision.

It was a really bad decision in my case.

It wasn't a consistent decision.

No, it wasn't consistent. The appealable issue in my case comes down to a very discrete point of law. There is case law, that the 9th Circuit had actually ruled on that was applicable in my case, called Bailey 924c. I won't go into the legalese, but the issue was clearly there. I was charged and convicted in a non-jury court in Northern Ireland of simple possession. This is a matter of clear record. When the treaty was revised there was an argument about this and the US Senate expressly struck simple possession from the treaty as an extraditable offense. My lawyer, Dennis Riordan, during the oral arguments in front of the appellate court caught the prosecutors in a number of contradictions. The governments are now maintaining that possession equaled use in Northern Ireland. Dennis was able to use their own words against them and the judges agreed. They ruled I should be allowed to go back before Legge and have another hearing under the earlier, more favorable treaty.

In the decade you lived here before you were re-arrested by the FBI, were you able to maintain contact with your family in Ireland?

Yes, I was; surreptitiously I was.

You had support right along?

Yes, I did, but I certainly dropped out of the picture here. It would have been stupid to be hanging out in Irish bars, making myself known.

Clearly the FBI would have people in those places.

You would think so, and also there's loose talk. Certainly, it's not like in Belfast where you have to watch what you say to certain people. Over here, a pub is more of a place for conversation. But where we grew up that kind of talk costs lives.

And there's a certain amount of romanticism among Irish Americans, who are sympathetic, but don't really understand.

There's that. Certainly there's a group of people who do know the score, people who come over here for economic reasons or wanderlust. They have a new life under completely different circumstances. Like I said, I thought I was only going to be here for two or three years.

I wonder if you'd comment on this: There's a lot of propaganda against the Republicans and the Republican movement, for example in the movies....

I think that the tide, over the last five or six years has been turning. In large part because of the Clinton administration's policy in Ireland and in America, for example by lifting the visa restrictions on Sinn Feiners and Republicans and letting them into this country to present their case. That certainly turned the tide, because when Gerry Adams was first allowed into the US it was very big news. People forget that until then, the British forbade the voice of Sinn Fein spokesmen to be broadcast. On TV you'd see Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness or any other Sinn Fein councilor speaking, but an actor would be reading their words verbatim in a voice over. It was insane. Clinton helped break that kind of absurd logjam. Adams is a very effective orator and spokesman for the movement, he also helped take the struggle out of the secretive back alleys and into the open which is, for better or worse, where we are now. Sinn Fein itself has blossomed over the last ten years. It's now the fourth largest political party in Ireland, the only party with a weekly newspaper. We're becoming more and more mainstream. Even in the Republic of Ireland, we're getting elected to councils and now one or two TD's (teacha daila or member of the Irish Parliament) and more will be picked up in the next election. We're making inroads; we're the only political party with elected representatives in both the North and the South.

How do you think it's going in the Bay Area, the level of knowledge about the true situation in Northern Ireland?

There's a very sophisticated understanding of the issues in Northern Ireland because of the visitors coming from Ireland and the level of political activism here. They just keep the pot boiling. Our fight against extradition has been an education for the average reader of newspapers, it's galvanized support. People are much more aware of what the British and American governments are doing. Any thinking person would realize the parallels that America's history of revolutionary war has with the Irish wars to rid themselves of the British presence.

Terry Golway who wrote “The Irish Rebel,” probably one of the best books I've read about Irish activism both here in America and at home in Ireland, about the Irish struggle itself in the last 100 years, paints a very broad picture and a history of Irish Americans themselves, dating from the Civil war onward. One little known fact is that Irish soldiers in the American Civil War were almost mercenary, with the intention being that they were getting military training, and an Irish Expeditionary Army would actually go back to Ireland and face the British. The two times that America invaded Canada it was Irish, it was Irish freedom fighters (Clan na Gael) that led the insurgence. There's an entire history of that kind of movement in America, that speaks to Irish activism. In the last 6 or 7 years, there's been an upswing in not only political activism, but there's been a Celtic renaissance. Irish music, theater, poetry, radio. I haven't seen a good movie on the subject yet. There's “The Boxer” and “Some Mother's Son,” but there hasn't been a really good intelligent movie that leads people to understand why men and women like myself get involved.

There was a subtle propaganda piece in Harper's by a man named Anderson that portrayed the IRA and Sinn Fein as a criminal organization. Did you see that? That was obviously intended to influence public opinion in a very negative way.

No, but that goes back to the Criminalization policy that the Brits had in the mid-70's.

But he was an American journalist.

They were probably feeding him this stuff. A lot of journalists that cover Ireland for various newspapers in America, never get out of London. I have some friends who are journalists, who actually go to Ireland and they give me feedback. They say that the government wine and dines them and they never really get over to Ireland and into Belfast.

What's the coverage like by the mainstream papers? For example, the New York Times?

I think, since this government has changed policy, that paper has been a little more fair, the reporting a bit more realistic. Before they relied on British handouts, didn't pay too much attention to the Irish people. Since the peace process has kicked in, between London, Dublin and Belfast the contrast between reality and reporting hasn't been as stark. They're not as afraid to go to the Republican areas to see what's going on.

Do you run into much personal hostility in Berkeley?

No, not at all.

Do you actually have some English supporters? I think I met some.

Yes, we do. When you meet most people and sit and talk, they see that you don't have a set of horns. They find out that you're just an ordinary Joe Blow that grew up in a situation that demanded that you do what you thought was right. Do what you believe to be right and suffer the consequences. You can see the scales fall from their eyes. “Look at what I believed, what I did and that I'm not ashamed of it. If circumstances were to present themselves again, I'd do the same thing.” Basically terrorism and terrorist are labels that governments put on people and movements to discredit and demonize them. The biggest terrorist in the world are governments — state sponsored terrorism. When you sit down and talk to people, they think about it.

The famous Jimmy Smyth is out now, isn't he?

He's out. Is he famous? (laughs) More like infamous.

What kind of surveillance are you under here?

I don't know if there is any active surveillance. If they are as good as they say they are, I wouldn't be able to tell. I do have to physically report once a week to the Federal government, pretrial services and call in once a week. The custody certainly isn't as restrictive as it was in the 20 months I was out before when we had to wear the ankle bracelet monitoring devices, had to phone in 3 times a week. It was a royal pain, this time around since we won our appeal the attitude is much more relaxed.

Are you allowed to see the other guys?

There's no restrictions on who we see. We are confined to the Northern District of California. If I want to leave I have to get a court order granting travel permission, which I have done.

Did you have any discussions with the FBI agents?

No, I've never talked to the FBI. I don't want to.

Can you contrast prison conditions in Ireland with conditions here?

It's really hard to contrast prison conditions, because, when we were in jail in Ireland, we had obviously gone through the blanket protest, the dirty protest and the hunger strikes, we were political, organized and regimented. There's nothing that I can compare it to over here. When the protests ended and a more normal prison routine began for us in the H-Blocks, we were still in charge of ourselves. We were segregated from the rest of the prison population, but we controlled ourselves, we had our own inter-disciplinary command. Over here it's more isolated. You're going to prison. You're not in touch with other political people. In fact, the US government denies that there are any political prisoners in their jails, which is nonsense. But in the last 14 months we spent in Dublin, we did make our presence known. First of all, we refused to do any prison work. We let the administration know that and we were the only prisoners in the post-trial section of the prison that didn't work. We made our presence known that way. A lot of prisoners looked up to our stance. When I originally made my stand about work, I spent a lot of time in the hole because of it. When I got out I got kudos for that.

How long were you in the hole?

I spent four or five days there initially over not working and then at various times I was in the hole for protesting other issues. They moved Artt out of the wing to another jail for five or six weeks, then they moved Kirby to a different wing, basically splitting us up. I protested that and got put in isolation again. Guys standing up to the prison officials for organization garnered respect. Once we all gravitated back together, they gave us more latitude. We were the only prisoners that I knew in that institution who were able to get meetings together even though we were on different wings.

They permitted that?

They granted us special privileges as when we'd ask for meetings. They didn't do that for anyone else. Several instances we had peace negotiators and other political activists from Ireland who were in town come to visit at special times. It was generally accepted within the prison administration that we were specially treated.

And they didn't interfere with your mail?

No, not at all. I think Kirby had a little problem with his mail, but that didn't affect anyone else. The mail is opened by machines so sometimes a letter would arrive sliced. We got an enormous amount of mail. I think there was only one day in four years that I didn't receive something.

Your sister visited, and your brother?

My family has visited over here during incarcerations, my parents are coming to the East Coast in March to visit family. Joanna and I are going to travel to see them. We're coming back by train. It will be a treat to be alone and see the country at the same time.

Was your family harassed a lot when you were in prison over there?

Nothing special, from what I understand. There's always a certain level of harassment against Nationalists.

What does that consist of, specifically?

Raided homes, getting stopped in cars and while walking on the street.

Did the British Army occupy your neighborhood?

The cops have toned it down. That's the process of Normalization.

Are the police mostly Protestant?

They're 92-93% Protestant. There's a commission set up there now which has urged that the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) be disbanded and restructured as part of the peace process. The peace process is still in it's early stages.

Decommissioning (voluntary surrender of arms by paramilitaries) is basically an issue invented by John Major, who didn't like the current way the process was moving. Decommissioning is being used as an obstructionist issue because the Unionists dislike the peace agreement even more than Nationalists and Republicans like it. I don't think anybody likes the agreement in it's entirety. There are aspects that one side won't go along with and aspects no one is happy with. Decommissioning is a red herring which hopefully we'll get around and move on.

Are there any Unionist organizations in the Bay Area? Do you have debates with them? They seem to speak purely through the British.

No, I don't think so, I haven't heard of any either. I think what happened was that there's more Nationalist Catholic immigrants over here than there are Protestant immigrants. Maybe that's changing now, because certainly over the last 10 to 20 years their dominance on an economic scale back home has waned. It could be changing because of the peace process, but I also think that Unionist Protestants emigrate to England and Scotland rather than head westward. If they do go west, it's usually to Canada. In fact, there are many Orange organizations there. The Orange Order has a big presence in Canada, which is a part of the Commonwealth, after all.

The Irish Catholics from both sides of the border in Ireland tend to come to the lower 48, certainly in the last 10 to 20 years there has been a sizable immigration. This has begun to slow down recently due to the economic boom in the Republic, in fact many people who were economic refugees are returning to Ireland now. It's an educated, English speaking work force in a country with well developed transportation and communication networks that's close to Europe. Ireland offers incentives to global companies willing to invest there. They call it the Celtic tiger on the business page. I don't know how long it will last, but people are beginning to go home.

Are there any similarities between the Irish Nationalist movement and the Scottish independence movement?

The Scottish Nationalist movement has certainly taken off. Scots in Parliament, Scottish Nationals won big in the last election. The Scots are now talking about—

[Joanna, Pol’s wife comes in.]

When did you meet Joanna?

We met in December 1984, our relationship deepened and several months later we were living together. We married in 1989. We met in San Francisco, I was living in the East Bay.

Joanna: We met in a bar, he asked me to dance.

An expensive dance! (laughs)

Joanna: It was the only time I had ever been to an Irish bar.

What is your legal status at the moment?

Where we are legally is that the governments have now moved for a re-hearing “en banc” of our successful appeals. This means that they want a hearing before all the judges on the 9th Circuit. The judges have to decide among themselves whether they are going to grant this petition so there's probably memos flying back and forth among them. We expect to hear soon. If granted, there will be new briefs written and yet more oral arguments. Then they have to decide and write separate opinions for each of us, it will take a while. Last time it took 3 judges 5 months to rule. It seems like we're looking at another block of time. If we have to go through an en banc hearing and our appeal decisions are overturned, we could be extradited, barring interest from the Supreme Court. If they uphold our successful appeals then we will all be sent back to the lower court before Judge Legge for new extradition hearings, but this time he will have been instructed by the 9th Circuit to consider my case under the more favorable treaty and to allow Kirby and Artt to bring in evidence that their original convictions in Ireland were the result of a corrupt and oppressive legal system as it applied to Republicans at the time.

Are you optimistic?

I'm reasonably optimistic that my issues, at least, will hold up. I'm not so sure about Kevin and Terry's chances, but I hope that we all win.

Have you had the same prosecutors? Have they followed you through all of this?

Yes, yes. Sarah Crisatelli is a heavy hitter from Washington DC but she doesn't seem as personally involved as the local prosecutor, Mark Zanides.

Joanna: Rumor has it he has a picture of Thatcher displayed in his office.

Was he assigned to these cases because he has a special interest in them?

Yes, he was, because he successfully prosecuted Bill Quinn, an Irish- American from San Francisco, who was extradited back to London where he was charged and convicted of the murder of a cop. Quinn would have won his extradition battle, his 9th Circuit panel of three judges ruled that the killing was politically motivated but because the action took place outside of Ireland where there was no insurrection, no war, they approved his extradition back to England where the killing occurred. It was a 2-1 decision. The judge who dissented in that ruling is Betty Fletcher who is now the senior judge on our panel. Because the 9th Circuit made that ruling, I can show that my actions were politically motivated and certainly happened in a war zone.

Joanna: That's only because Pol will be heard under the same treaty as Bill Quinn was which grants a political defense.

There are other issues that the 9th Circuit thought didn't receive proper investigation in the original hearings before Legge.

The 9th Circuit said Legge should have let them investigate their original convictions.

Also the aspects of the conflict in Ireland, and that provides many relevant issues that can be brought into the arguments.

What happened to Quinn?

He got extradited back to London. He's still in jail. If the early release of prisoners, which is part of the peace process, continues, he'll probably be released. As it stands, all political prisoners should be out by June 2000.

Did the FBI testify in any of this?

Joanna: They provided paperwork.

Have you been to Ireland, Joanna?

Joanna: No, never. I was raised Catholic, my parents are devout, my paternal grandmother was Irish Catholic, it was her parents who were immigrants. When I met Pol I knew there was strife in Northern Ireland, but I didn't know the details. I thought just what most Americans think, that it's a religious war between the Catholics and Protestants, rather than a problem of colonialization and discrimination as well as the British military occupation. I remember standing at the bar with Pol the night we met and asking him about the overtly political mural on the wall. He told me it depicted the 1916 Easter Rebellion. Ironically, it turned out my unknowing was an asset, because I was completely unconnected to local Irish activists. It was safer for him. All that changed when he was arrested in front of our house that morning in '93. When we moved here, only our old friends and the Federal government knew where we were. We forwarded our mail to a post office box, didn't change our licenses, voted in our old neighborhood.

Because your other house was like Grand Central Station?

Joanna: Exactly. There were just too many groupies, people who wanted to be intimate even though they didn't even know us. By the time of his hearing, they were breathing our air. Moving turned out to be the best way to draw a line between our public and private lives. By nature, Pol and I are much more suited to our old anonymous selves. It's better now, our daughter is in college, over 6 years have passed, we're stronger, flexible. We've even begun to give out our phone number again.

And you have children?

Joanna: Two in their early thirties, and our youngest is 18. Pol came into her life when she was 4 and she was 12 when he was arrested. She knew about Ireland, but not about Pol's personal history; she had to come up to speed quickly but it was grueling. She got a lot of love, but the separation, the prison visits — it wasn't until she went to Ireland to visit his family when she was 14 that she experienced a culture of support for political prisoners. Here, it was only our friends who were kids through the McCarthy era and who had their parents hauled off to prison. The Meeropol brothers, sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are still in close contact with her and have been an enormous help with their foundation for children of activist parents who cannot provide adequately for their kids. We've been fortunate.

Do most people in Sinn Fein support the Labor Party?

Pol: The Labor Party in Britain? Actually, the Labor Party up until this administration had a dismal record in Ireland. Blair? He's come around. He's rather Clintonesque in that respect.

Joanna: He wants to be the person who gets credit for solving the problems in Ireland. He has that, and his mother is Irish too. She's from Galway or Donegal.

Is Gerry Adams pretty much universally supported now? There was a lot of talk in our mainstream press about the dissident, the so-called breakaway IRA.

The Omagh bombing disaster neutralized that faction for the time being. I don't want bombings. Sinn Fein and the Republicans want peace and I don't think the IRA gets enough credit for holding their fire. After all, it was the IRA that declared a unilateral cease fire which took everyone by surprise. Strategically, it was useful and it has helped the politics of the situation. Now both sides are getting edgy but for different reasons, and there have been some attacks, shootings and bombings. This peace process could falter, it definitely could falter. The stance of the IRA, Sinn Fein, the Republican movement is, 'OK, the armed struggle has stopped, we'll intensify the political struggle and give it enough time to bear fruit', but if the British allow the Unionist to subvert the peace process legally or otherwise, I worry that the situation could deteriorate and factionalize. It would be wiser for the Unionists and British to deal with the devil they know rather than the devils they don't. We've got an awful lot to lose because the government could strip us of all the gains we've achieved over the years.

Joanna: The US government is tightening it's grip here as well. When we went to the benefit breakfast at the St. Francis Hotel honoring Gerry Adams which included Mayor Willie Brown, on every plate in the room was a card that stated that if you made a donation to the Friends of Sinn Fein you had to register your name, address and phone number along with the amount to the Federal government. If the peace process founders, the IRA will be demoted to the International Terrorist List and every sympathizer who donated funds to Sinn Fein could be suspected of and theoretically jailed for collusion.

Pol: There would be a lot to lose by going back to the armed struggle, and ideologically while they have their eyes on the prize, they know the way to get there is turning out to be different from how it was originally envisaged.

What do you think about the Protestant leadership?

They are totally unreasonable. It's the politics of supremacy.

What about Scotland? Is there a big difference between Scotland and England in public opinion?

The Catholics in Scotland support the Irish Republicans, and the Protestants support the Unionists. A large part of working class Scots parallel the Northern Irish along religious-political divide. Protestant Scots would be loyal to the Crown while Catholic Scots would favor independence.

Are there any good fictional treatments of the Republicans?

I don't know of any, really, but then I don't read fiction.

There's a couple of books out about your escape.

“Out of the Maze” by Derek Dunn is the best but it's out of print. There's also a short documentary film done on it on British TV by an independent film team.

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