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Administration stops deportation proceedings to futher peace process

September 10, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration stopped deportation proceedings Tuesday against six Irish nationals who served time in Northern Ireland or the United States for committing terrorist acts for the Irish Republican Army.

Attorney General Janet Reno acted at the request of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said suspension of the proceedings could advance the peace process in Northern Ireland.

``We do not approve or condone any past acts of terrorism in which they may have been involved,″ Albright said in a letter sent Tuesday to Reno.

``Nor do we accept the legal arguments against deportation that have been advanced in some of their cases. But, in light of our interest in achieving a lasting, overall settlement in Northern Ireland, we request that as a matter of discretion and without prejudice to the administration’s legal position, you take action ... to ensure that these individuals will not be deported from the United States at this time,″ Albright’s letter said.

The six who had been in danger of expulsion from the United States were Robert McErlean, Matthew Morrison, Gabriel Megahey, Brian Pearson, Noel Gaynor and Gerald McDade, the Justice Department said.

They had been convicted of a range of crimes, including murder, attempted murder, car theft, weapons and bombing violations and membership in a proscribed organization, Justice officials said.

None currently is wanted on any charge, and all have work permits. Several have married American woman and have children who are U.S. citizens, the department said.

Five were convicted in Northern Ireland and served their sentences in there. The sixth, Megahey, was convicted in the United States of several counts, including the interstate transportation and exportation of explosives and firearms. He served five years in this country for attempting to provide weapons to the IRA.

The decision brought praise from several members of Congress, including Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-N.Y., who called it an act of fundamental fairness and humanitarian kindness.

``I thank President Clinton for this wise, fair, courageous and timely action,″ Gilman said. ``Moreover it is a gesture of reconciliation that is sorely needed at this critical point in the Irish peace process.″

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., describe the action as a dramatic confidence-building measure that ``will have enormous impact not just on the deportees and their families, but on the peace process in Ireland.″

``We’re finally seeing a fundamental change in the way this country’s foreign policy is meted out when it comes to Ireland,″ said Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass.

One of the men, Pearson, served 12 years in prison for a 1975 bombing of a Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Northern Ireland. He argued that his was ``a political act″ under U.S. immigration law, not terrorism.

Pearson, 45, legally entered this country in 1988, overstayed his visa and applied for asylum last year when U.S. officials moved to deport him.

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