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IRA Man Loses 10-Year Deportation Battle, Returned To Belfast

February 20, 1992

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Former Irish Republican Army fighter Joseph Doherty was deported from the United States and returned to a Belfast jail early Thursday following a 10- year battle for political asylum, police said.

Doherty, facing a life sentence for murdering a British soldier in May 1980, was clandestinely taken from federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., and put aboard a plane, said a U.S. law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He landed at the U.S. Air Force base in Suffolk in eastern England and was then flown in a British Air Force plane to Belfast, police here said.

Doherty’s long years fighting extradition made him a potent symbol of resistance to British rule in Northern Ireland. But in recent years he expressed doubts about the armed struggle, and was disowned by some IRA supporters.

Doherty broke out of Crumlin Road jail with seven other inmates while awaiting sentence for murdering an army captain, Herbert Westmacott, during a gunbattle at a house in west Belfast. He fled to New York in 1982 and was sentenced in his absence to life in prison, with the judge recommending that he serve at least 30 years.

Doherty, 37, was returned to Crumlin Road on Thursday.

His deportation provoked sharp criticism from supporters - 132 members of Congress had signed a letter asking the government to reconsider his case. Critics said justice was sacrificed for the sake of relations with the British government.

″It is no coincidence that Joe Doherty’s deportation was delayed until the day following the New Hampshire primaries,″ said Paul O’Dwyer, former New York City Council president.

Doherty’s lawyers were not notified of his predawn removal and said they were stonewalled when they sought to confirm his deportation.

″A man I’ve represented for 10 years has slipped utterly from our grasp and the government will not tell us anything,″ said attorney Mary Pike, who took Doherty’s quest for asylum to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court ruled against him in January.

Doherty had been imprisoned since 1983 as an illegal alien. Last week, knowing he might be deported at any time, he gave his lawyers a statement for release once he was gone.

″I found myself seeking the safety and sanctuary of the American dream,″ Doherty wrote. ″This dream for me will end in a nightmare when the plane on which I am removed from the United States touches down on a British airfield in occupied Northeast Ireland.″

″But my decade in the United States, the people I met, was befriended by, loved and struggled with, are etched in my mind forever.″

Many of Doherty’s supporters said the U.S. justice system had failed to protect a political prisoner from his persecutors.

″Mr. Doherty is no more likely to receive justice at the hands of British authorities than he has at the hands of the U.S. Justice Department,″ said New York Mayor David Dinkins, who visited Doherty in jail last week.

Dan Levin, the U.S. attorney general’s chief of staff in New York, and Verne Jervis, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, declined to comment.

IRA supporters protesting the deportation clashed with police Wednesday night in Belfast’s New Lodge area, where Doherty once lived. Police said youths set a hijacked car ablaze and threw gasoline bombs at police when they arrived to remove it.

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