Homeland Security Won't Let a Former IRA Man Out of Prison

After living in the U.S. for 25 years, Pól Brennan is now stuck on the Texas-Mexico border

Reached at his home in St. Louis, where he has been living and working as a registered nurse for more than ten years, Morrison characterized the Bush Administration as negligent at best and, at worst, as apparently acting on the belief that the Troubles in Northern Ireland were still at their peak.

"The word I employ the most is 'anachronism.' The reality is that there has been a peace dividend all around for almost everybody that was involved in the peace process," says Morrison. "And it would seem on the face of it that former Irish Republicans here in the United States are much further behind the starting line than everybody else."

In the new Northern Ireland, former hardline IRA leader Martin McGuiness until quite recently shared power with virulently anti-Catholic leader the Reverend Ian Paisley. (Paisley retired from his post earlier this year.) Indeed, the two were photographed together in President George W. Bush's office, looking almost downright chummy. (Such a development once seemed as unthinkable in Northern Ireland as Michael Moore marrying Anne Coulter would be here.)

Matt Morrison has gone from the Derry Brigade of the IRA to a new life as a registered nurse in St. Louis.
Jennifer Silverberg
Matt Morrison has gone from the Derry Brigade of the IRA to a new life as a registered nurse in St. Louis.

But that photo op was the exception to the rule with President Bush. Morrison, Brennan and other former IRA prisoners in America believe the President's neglect of the Irish question is a form of political payback: Unlike President Bill Clinton, who took a keen interest in Northern Irish matters, Bush did not owe any favors to blue states with significant Irish-­American enclaves.

Morrison also believes that post-9/11 realities are at play. "In a post-9/11 environment, the government wants to be seen to be pursuing a hard line," he says. Which, he believes, is counterproductive to the still-ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland. "What you're seeing is the unfinished business of the peace process," he says. "There's a number of loose ends, and while they are not gonna stop the peace process dead in its tracks, they can fray the edge of the fabric.

"There is an irony here," Morrison continues. "And I'll tell you what it is: The irony is that guys like Pól Brennan, myself and the other guys that are involved in Thar Saile have been the very people who have been vociferously supporting the peace process throughout and have been keeping American supporters on board throughout the peace process."
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The federal Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, where Brennan is incarcerated today, is a long way from Ireland in every way imaginable. Saint Patrick famously drove the serpents out of Ireland, but he never made it to this or any other part of Texas. A sign posted near the perimeter of the lockup warns of the presence of both venomous snakes and alligators, and green jays, Mexican eagles and ocelots patrol the brush.

Paradoxically, given these exotic surroundings, Brennan may be closer now to Belfast than he's been at any time since he slipped past the huge British dragnet in 1983. Though he has bailed out of American jails before, this time around the judge has denied bond. Unless there is a sea change in the drift of his case, Brennan could face deportation before the summer is out.

If you were to look for Pól Brennan's literary precedent, you could do worse than Jean Valjean, the redeemed ­criminal-turned-philanthropist hero of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

Of course, you could also do better, as Brennan has hardly been a saint since he came to America. Nevertheless, at bottom, Brennan's conversion from active member of the Irish Republican Army to American working stiff has been dramatic.

And this year, the United States government has proven itself every bit the doctrinaire pursuer that Valjean's nemesis Inspector Javert was in Hugo's masterwork.

Brennan has detailed his most recent incarceration on his Web site, www.polbrennan.com. As the palest detainee in Port Isabel, he was subject at first to great suspicion from his Caribbean and South and Central American fellow detainees. He reports that people got in his face and demanded to know where he was from. Once he told them Ireland, they tended to become friendly.

More so than they are to each other: He writes that there is frequent tension between the Hispanics and the English-speaking Caribbeans, which often boils over when debating whether to tune in Spanish- or English-language TV.

Before his dispatch to solitary confinement, Brennan shared a cell with a fellow English speaker, a Jamaican named Dave Clark. The name reminded Brennan of the British Invasion pop group, and Brennan told him so. "Yeah, I've heard that before," the Jamaican answered. Brennan wrote that his conversations with Clark reminded him of similar scenes of Jamaican/Irish interaction in British jails from the Daniel Day-Lewis film In the Name of the Father.

But most of the time, life in the lockup is boring, Brennan writes. Other than Bibles, there is no reading material, so Brennan's supporters have set up a Web page to help supply him with the popular science books he loves — books like Longitude and Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded. Brennan writes, reads, talks on the phone and tries mainly to keep to himself while maintaining good relations with all the different ethnic groups. On the off chance he gets control of the TV, he tunes in The Colbert Report, The Daily Show or BBC news.

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3 comments
bonedog13
bonedog13

BTW. Illegal immigrants, no matter the crime? If you are here illegally, then by the meaning of that title you commited a crime coming here. Any other "small crime" is moot. You have proven that the nations laws already mean nothing to you, so how can you be trusted? But i still maintain this was an issue of pick and choose for a boost by hapless border feds. If this man is here to truly live his life with remorse and with purpose, MAYBE he can have redemption here. But ALL illegal "immigrants" have broken law. (Try coming to mexico from central America nations, see how you are treated). But again, lets not confuse the immigrant status with the cause of his detention at border. And yes, he is an illegal. We need even handed enforcement. If you wish to be in U.S., then be ALL THE WAY IN. Swear allegiance but do NOT move in and start a special enclave of fellow country folk or ethnicity and carve out your own nation within a nation. Melting pot, or go elsewhere. Do not live under our protection while holding no allegiance and while holding contempt for the borders that protect you, borders you once violated, borders that are sadly for sale to some.

bonedog13
bonedog13

But we let in tons of mexicans that are connected to cartels and street gangs, who have killed counless. While murder of innocents is ABHORRENT regardless of why its done, this matter was a U.S. border issue, so stay on facts of detainment. If his being here was deemed lawful, then its a case of federal agents once again focusing on making a name for themselves, nothing more. Mexican nationals cause more deaths and crime than IRA could touch. Brits have murdered their share and hhave an EMPIRES worth of blood on their historical hands. This does not excuse IRA in any way. However, this article is about detainment of someone aadjudicated" legal". Apparently there was no pay off money to the feds for this man, as there is from coyotes and cartel "businessmen". Had he been mexican and on the "list", he would have been waved through.

Polbrennan
Polbrennan

I'm probably the only person here who was born and raised in Ireland during the Troubles, so I want to state for the record that during the course of the Troubles, Mr. Brennan and his IRA comrades  murdered more Irish men, women, and children, than the British. And still do. Can you guess the damage those 23 pound bomb would have caused? If not, look up Bloody Friday, La Mon, the Remembrance Day Bombing, Omagh Bombing. This is the only charge he was jailed for. The IRA were kill Irish Catholics as well as Protestants - we have no idea how many murders he participated in. At least he gets his life - not many IRA victims did. You do the crime, you do the time.

 
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