Sign of Conflict: Street To Be Named for IRA Prisoner
NEW YORK (AP) _ Irish Republican Army member Joe Doherty isn’t leaving prison, but he’s getting a new address - one his supporters hope will refocus attention on his case as he starts his eighth year in a federal jail.
The City Council this week is prepared to rename the street corner below his cell Joe Doherty Corner. The plan to honor Doherty, the convicted killer of a British army captain in 1980, has angered British officials who condemn him as a terrorist and a murderer.
Supporters of the name change, which is to remain in effect until Doherty is released, hope it will help free him.
″It is an abomination that Doherty should be held in a prison in our city as long as he has been,″ said Carolyn Maloney, the city councilwoman who proposed the change.
A City Council committee and a local community board already have approved the proposal. The full council is expected to pass the measure at its Tuesday session.
Supporters hope to hold the official ceremony renaming the corner on June 18 - the beginning of Doherty’s eighth year at the jail.
″He’s lived here as long, maybe longer, than most of the people in this neighborhood,″ said Paul Goldstein, district manager of the community board that approved the name change.
Indeed, he has been in the Metropolitan Correctional Center longer than any other inmate in its history, longer than most of its guards. His seventh-floor cell and an orange prison jumpsuit are the fixtures in his life.
Doherty was unaware of the move to rename the intersection until last week, when his lawyer, Mary Pike, told him about it.
″He was visibly delighted. ... He’s touched and delighted that the people of the city have seen fit to address the injustice of his situation,″ Pike said.
The 35-year-old prisoner has been the focus of a legal battle since his arrest at a Manhattan bar in 1983.
Three years earlier, Doherty was convicted of murder in the machine-gun slaying of a British army captain during an IRA ambush in Northern Ireland. Doherty escaped from a Belfast prison before his conviction, used a false passport to enter the United States and avoided capture for two years.
The British want him returned to finish his prison term. The Reagan and Bush administrations have supported their request but deportation has been blocked in the courts.
Supporters say Doherty is a freedom fighter entitled to political asylum. And the list of those supporters is impressive: Mayor David Dinkins, Cardinal John J. O’Connor and more than 100 members of Congress have called for his release.
The almost exclusively Roman Catholic IRA is fighting to push the British out of Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, join it with the Republic of Ireland and set up an all-Ireland socialist state.
Doherty has never been charged with a crime in the United States; he’s been held without bail that entire time. His lawyers were back in court on Friday arguing for his release pending resolution of his status.
Courts have ruled that he was entitled to a hearing on whether he should be given political asylum, but U.S. Attorneys General Edwin Meese and Dick Thornburgh have refused to grant him such a hearing. The whole matter is still being weighed in federal court in Manhattan.
North of the prison in midtown Manhattan is the British Consulate, where reaction to the honor for Doherty was a mixture of surprise and disgust.
″He’s a murderer. ... The vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland will feel somewhat bewildered and puzzled by the decision to name a street after him,″ said Brian Kirk, information director.
It’s not the first time city officials used a street sign to send a political message.
Last year, the corner of 42nd Street and 12th Avenue - the site of the Chinese Consulate - was renamed Tiananmen Square. A section of First Avenue opposite the United Nations was christened Raoul Wallenberg Walk in 1985 after the Swedish diplomat who died or disappeared in Soviet custody after World War II.
The victory by Doherty supporters does not mean he will be able to see a street sign through the jail’s tiny windows.
″The irony is though the sign will be literally right outside, Joe will not see it,″ said Pike.