17 January 2006

Former prisoners fight for visiting rights

The Australian

Rick Wallace
January 18, 2006

A FORMER IRA commander jailed for killing a British soldier and a Canadian professor with a string of criminal convictions in the 1960s are fighting the federal Government for the right to visit Australia.

Tommy McKearney and Bob Gaucher are among a group of speakers scheduled for a conference in Tasmania next month calling for the abolition of prisons, organised by prisoners' rights group Justice Action. The group has accused the Government of "dragging the chain" on the men's visa applications and jeopardising their visit.

Justice Action also hopes to secure a visa for Irish republican activist turned playwright Brenda Murphy, jailed during The Troubles for being a member of the IRA and possessing a gun.

The Government has the power to refuse visas to former prisoners who have served more than a year in jail on character grounds, and is assessing their applications.

Justice Action says the trio are examples of former prisoners who have turned their lives around..

Mr McKearney served 16 years in a Belfast jail for killing part-time soldier Stanley Adams. He has since set up a former prisoners' support group in Ireland called Expac.

Justice Action said Professor Gaucher had a criminal record for robbery, burglary, cannabis possession and common assault, but said the crimes were in his distant past. He is now an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa. Murphy now writes plays and short stories.

In 2004, the Irish pair were blocked from entering Canada to speak at a conference run by the University of Ottawa.

Justice Action spokesman Brett Collins said this decision and the delays by the Australian Government were outrageous.

An Immigration Department spokesman said an international events co-ordinator had been working with Justice Action since the middle of last year on the visa applications.

He said the department had to ensure people wanting to visit passed health and character criteria.

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