CLONMEL -- Rarely a day passes during the holiday season without hearing how vigilant immigration officers have captured Irish citizens in the States who have overstayed their visas. The procedure is simple--they're identified, handcuffed, starved for 12 hours, denied access to phone calls, and locked down for months pending a hearing. This well-oiled tactic, certain to safeguard America from terrorist and eco-tourists, explains why the westbound Aer Lingus flights are exceptionally busy this year. Now Irish grannies go west to visit their offspring who have overstayed. You can hear who they are in Manhattan, Chicago, and Boston. They might be your taxi driver, day labourer, nanny, or mechanic. Like Irish who have landed before, they work hard, do the weekend labour, show up on time on Mondays and rarely complain. I know this story first-hand because it was told to me by my late grandmother who recalls the sweat and toil of the McKelvey and McAuliffe famliles as they made a life in the New World in the late 1800s. Things are different today. Those kind of long-staying entrepreneurs need not apply for entry to the USA. I don't think the Founding Fathers would have agreed to that philosophy. I know the Statute of Liberty would bear a different inscription if it had been erected within the last two years. Times have changed. Attitudes have warped. The undercurrent that oozes below the check-in counters and immigration way stations isn't part of the society I used to defend in uniformed service of the United States. And the way history is being rewritten in the Post 9/11 era, I wonder if anyone will believe America used to welcome the huddled masses?
Writing in the Sunday Independent, Eilis O'Hanlon notes the selective interest the Irish media displays for Irish citizens imprisoned abroad.
Estimates vary depending on who you believe, but there are somewhere between 800 and 1,200 Irish people imprisoned abroad; and you never hear a word about any of them. Then three republicans end up behind bars in some god-forsaken South American hellhole and you hear about nothing else for months. Prime Time clears the schedule for urgent updates. Morning Ireland goes into warp drive. Ministers are summoned to studios across Dublin to express the government's concern. The families of the men in question are interviewed repeatedly.
The families of the other 800-plus Irish citizens, meanwhile, might just as well whistle Dixie for all the interest the media has in their plight - and some of them are far more deserving of sympathy than the Colombia Three, who at least should take responsibility for their presence in the war-ravaged jungles of a country not renowned for its stability.
Fine Gael TD John Deasy last week raised the case of two cousins from Waterford who have been imprisoned in a top-security gaol in Denver for the past six weeks after being arrested for overstaying their holiday visas. "We just want them home for Christmas," the father of one pleaded last week. But frankly, unless they can prove they're well-connected in Provo circles, they might as well forget about raising any interest in the case. Sinn Fein have cornered the market in feeding heartrending stories about Irish prisoners abroad. There just isn't room for any more of them.
Eilis O'Hanlon -- "Constitution should bar Sinn Fein from holding power"
Frank McGahon -- "Only eco-tourists count?"