Former IRA member's case draws attention of politicians - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Former IRA member's case draws attention of politicians

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2008 12:00 am

Twenty-five years after taking part in the largest prison break in the United Kingdom's history, Pol Brennan is back behind bars - this time at the Port Isabel Detention Center.

After his days with the Irish Republican Army - a group that espoused violence as a means of achieving Ireland's independence from Britain - Brennan spent more than 15 years as a fugitive. Those days, he thought, were over.

But in January 2008, eight years after the British government withdrew an extradition request for Brennan, he was arrested at the Sarita checkpoint, 70 miles north of Brownsville. U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended him after he presented an expired work permit.

Following his apprehension, Brennan was denied bail and spent four months in solitary confinement at the Port Isabel Detention Center. After much pleading, he was moved to the facility's main holding area, where he currently remains.

In the last few weeks, Brennan's case has attracted interest from American and Irish politicians who say, at the very least, the 55-year-old should be released on bail.

"My experience dealing with (Irish) republicans is that they don't jump bail in this country. They honor their commitments," U.S Rep. Peter King, R-NY, the top-ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, told the Belfast Telegraph on June 19. "Based on my experience, and also the republican movement's commitment to the peace process, I think he should get bail."

King's comments add fuel to an already-fiery case, which Brennan calls, "a purely political matter."

"This seems a little ridiculous," Brennan told the Brownsville Herald from the detention center. "I've been living here legally since 1996. I've been released on a $1 million bail before."

In April, Texas immigration judge Howard Achtsam rejected Brennan's bail petition because he deemed Brennan a flight risk and a danger to society.

Brennan's wife, who asked that her name not be printed, said it was "Irish luck" that Achtsam was assigned to the case. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, an independent research organization at Syracuse University, Achtsam denied 75 percent of asylum-seekers between 2001 and 2006. His rate of denial was 16 percent higher than the national average.

Those statistics don't bode well for Brennan, who will be applying for a green card in August. Brennan's wife is an American citizen.

For much of the 1980s and ‘90s, while being pursued by British authorities, Brennan lived quietly under the name Pol Morgan, and worked in the construction industry throughout the United States. He was arrested in 1994, and fought a lengthy battle against extradition. During the fight, he spent three years in Bay Area prisons.

But in 2000, the British government withdrew requests for Brennan and other participants of the 1983 Maze prison break as a part of the Belfast Agreement. The agreement normalized relations between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Maze prison escape - known to many as the Great Escape - still lives on in Ireland's historical memory. Thirty-eight men escaped from the maximum-security prison located outside of Belfast in Northern Ireland.

Most of the men were IRA members engaged in the armed struggle to free Ireland from British control. Brennan had been serving a 23-year sentence at the prison after being convicted of possessing a bomb and a firearm.

One prison officer died of a heart attack after being stabbed while attempting to stop the jailbreak.

In the subsequent 25 years, the IRA's struggle adopted political, rather than militant means.

One of the Brennan's fellow escapees, Gerry Kelly, went on to work with President Bill Clinton in the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement. For Brennan, what started as a political crusade in Ireland has become a personal one in the United States.

"This sends a message to other (Irish) republicans here," he said. "They might be living here legally with American-born children, but if they can do this to me, they can do it to anyone."

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