19 January 2006

IRA man lashes out over visa 'hurdles'

The Australian

Rick Wallace
January 20, 2006

FORMER IRA commander and convicted murderer Tommy McKearney has accused the Australian Government of taking sides in the conflict over Northern Ireland after he withdrew a visa application to visit Australia.

An angry Mr McKearney, who planned to visit Tasmania to address a prisons conference, released a statement yesterday accusing immigration officials of placing "enormous and unnecessary" hurdles in his path.

"Protracted demands for police records by their immigration officials indicates that the Australian authorities still hold the view that the Irish conflict was an illicit conspiracy, rather than a widely supported insurrection against British misrule in Northern Ireland," the former IRA hardman said.

"It is unfortunate that the Australian public will not now have the opportunity to hear from those of us who can testify to the futility of governments attempting to address political issues via a security response.

"Personally, I would have liked to visit your beautiful country, not to mention seeing a place where once my captors also held so many other Irish republicans. That this will not now happen is a pity but it won't persuade me to change my political opinions." Mr McKearney and several other speakers who have spent time in prison were locked in a struggle with immigration authorities to secure visas in time for the International Conference on Penal Abolition next month.

Legislation gives authorities the right to refuse a visa to anyone who has been in prison for more than a year, although there is a power of discretion.

Mr McKearney spent 16 years in the Long Kesh prison near Belfast for the murder of part-time soldier Stanley Adams during the Troubles.

Mr McKearney, now project director for an ex-prisoners' support group, was one of a number of foreign speakers at the conference, which is calling for the complete abolition of prisons.

Conference organisers Justice Action, an Australian prisoners' support group, has accused the Government of dragging its heels on visa applications for Mr McKearney and fellow Irish republican activist Brenda Murphy, as well as Canadian professor Bob Gaucher. A spokesman for the Immigration Department said Mr McKearney had been advised of the criteria for entry and had been asked to provide "additional information" to assist his application.

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