Former IRA men in US campaign

Two former IRA men from Derry now living in America have formed a group to campaign for ex-paramilitaries to be granted legal immigration status in the United States.

Matt Morrison and Paul Harkin recently founded Thar Saile (Overseas), a support group calling for ex-republican prisoners facing the threat of deportation from America to be given legal immigrant status.

Mr. Morrison, 52, was born in the Brandywell area of Derry and served ten years in Long Kesh after being convicted for an attack on an RUC patrol in 1975. He now lives in St. Louis and is married with a two children but he said his immigration status creates huge problems in his life.

"Right now I do not have a green card. I have a work permit, which is generally renewed every year. The problem is for a period of about 18 months they put me on 60-day work permits. It creates huge expense and trauma. If I don't have a work permit, I do not work," he said.

The Derry man also said he believes the position of former IRA men now living in America has the potential to create difficulties in the peace process. "While this uncertainty doesn't have the capacity to stop the peace process dead in its tracks, it does have the capacity to fray the edges of the fabric. It gives some ammunition to the people we might describe as dissidents, who are opposed to the peace process.

"The bottom line is this is a relatively small group of men we're talking about. It's not a blank check. It will not compromise the security of the United States," he said.

Another ex-prisoner, Paul Harkin, 55, said he faces being deported, despite being married to an American woman. He has been in America for 21 years and has three children.

"Technically I'm still considered deportable. I have made an application for political asylum and also an application for an adjustment of status, which anyone marrying a US citizen would apply for," he said.

He called on politicians here to do more to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by ex-prisoners in America. "Normally the latter process would take about two or three years. It's over 10 years now and it still hasn't emerged. Clearly a political decision has been made not to pursue the case either way," he explained.