From the H-Blocks to a Texas jail
His story reveals a great deal about the evolving Anglo-American attitude toward the IRA wrought by the Northern Ireland Peace Process. It is also where the war on "terrorism" meets the war on immigrants in the
Pol Brennan was born in 1953 in one of the poorest neighborhoods of
In 1976, Brennan was convicted of possessing explosives and immediately joined the blanket protest in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh prison. Here, IRA men refused to wear the prison uniform, demanding to be recognized, rightly, as political prisoners. They lived for years in cold prison cells, covered in nothing but a blanket.
Brennan shared a cell with Bobby Sands, the first man to die on the 1981 hunger strike for political status. As 10 men died, he lost several other friends. Along with British miners, Irish hunger strikers were on the vicious cutting edge of the Thatcher regime's attack on working people everywhere.
For more information on Pol Brennan's case and to find out how you can show your support, go to the Pol Brennan Support Web site. Supporters are circulating an online petition demanding that Pol not be deported from the
In 1983, two years after the hunger strike ended, Brennan was one of 38 IRA prisoners who escaped from the H-Blocks. It was the largest prison break in British history from Her Majesty's Prison Maze, considered one of the most secure prisons in
Pol made his way to the Bay Area, where he met and married Joanna Volz, a
The British government finally withdrew its extradition request in October 2000. By that time,
Pol, Joanna and her daughter Molly were able to live a peaceful and relatively normal life in the Bay Area. He worked legally as a carpenter, she as a legal clerk with the public defender's office. Brennan was able to indulge his passion for astronomy by volunteering at the local planetarium. The couple adopted two whippets. They named one Marley, after Pol's late friend Larry Marley, the architect of the escape from Long Kesh.
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But the agents ran Brennan's name through their computers and came up with the 1983 escape from Long Kesh. Brennan says, "They acted as if they had caught the terrorist al-Zarqawi, as they as they huddled around their computer screens. Their little eyes were jiggling in their heads with excitement."
The Border Patrol agents ignored the evidence faxed to them by Brennan's lawyer. As Brennan describes it, "They said, 'Well, just because you have an application pending doesn't mean you have a legal right to be in the
Pol Brennan was taken to the
Brennan was soon moved to solitary confinement, because, apparently, he was considered an escape risk since he broke out of Long Kesh 25 years earlier. It was as if they expected the IRA to invade
Today, Pol is locked in a cell 23 hours a day. He spends the other hour in the TV room. He sustains himself with books and phone calls to the outside world. When it is his turn to use the phone, the guards bring it on a trolley and hand it to him through the cell door. Brennan then has to hold the phone at an angle and punch in the 10-digit code for the prison phone system. He can only make collect calls or use a phone card.
Joanna Volz has moved to
An immigration judge denied Brennan bail, saying he is a "flight risk" and "a danger to the community." The judge, who is notoriously anti-immigrant, ignored numerous letters of support from the Bay Area, including one from Brennan's employer saying his job was being held open for him. Brennan was deemed a "flight risk" despite the fact that he had twice reported back to prison in
Now Brennan will have to go through a pro-forma hearing before the same judge on his political asylum application. From there, he will go to the Board of Immigration Appeals and, if necessary, to the Court of Appeals. He will almost certainly remain in prison at least through September.
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POL BRENNAN is collateral damage in the war on "terrorism." His 32-year-old IRA conviction and the escape from Long Kesh are keeping him from receiving a green card or
Brennan is also a victim, like many millions of others, of the
Now, Brennan's asylum application will almost certainly be decided by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Pol describes what's happening to immigrants in this situation:
Regretfully, current policy has been shaped by post-9/11 paranoia, and to some extent xenophobia that we can see in such actions as the USA PATRIOT Act and the hundreds of miles of border fencing and walls now under construction along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The vast majority of detainees here are from Central and South America (
Joanna Volz sums up Pol's situation: "This is just old news. The war is over. It's time this was over. The incident Pol was involved in happened 30-odd years ago. But this all keeps repeating itself. It's like a roundabout. Everybody else is trying to move on, but he's held back. It's just not fair."
The Irish government can certainly demand Brennan's release and call for an end to deportations proceedings. Born in
Popular mobilization and political pressure aimed at both the
Sandy Boyer is the co-host of Radio Free Eireann on WBAI in