Ciarán Ferry

FBI offered to free inmate
Ex-IRA member rejected deal, stays in Denver jail

By Julie Poppen, Rocky Mountain News
August 23, 2003

The FBI offered freedom to an Irish citizen jailed in Denver for overstaying his visa if he gave up information on the Irish Republican Army.

The offer was revealed Friday by inmate Ciaran Ferry, 31, during a hearing before an immigration judge.

Ferry is seeking asylum in the United States so he can live with his American wife and 2-year-old daughter.

Ferry, a former IRA member, told immigration Judge James P. Vandello at Wackenhut Services Processing Center in Aurora he refused to be a "mole" even if it meant he could live freely in the U.S.

"Why would I thrust my family into a dangerous situation I'm trying to escape from?" Ferry asked. "I think it's disgraceful."

Judge Vandello will decide the case by Nov. 1.

Ferry was caught in March 1993 with two other men driving between Belfast and Dublin with two weapons and about 52 rounds of ammunition. The British government alleged he was en route to kill Protestants in the town of Lisburn.

Ferry spent more than seven years of a 22-year sentence in prison but was released in August 2000 under the Good Friday Accords, a peace agreement negotiated between Ireland and England with U.S. support.

Ferry then came to Colorado with his wife on vacation and stayed. He was arrested in January and has been in jail ever since. He also failed to indicate he had been convicted of a crime on at least one visa document.

His case has attracted global attention and support, particularly from Irish-American groups.

Friday, his supporters, including one young man draped in a sash of Ireland's flag, came to court.

The U.S. government maintains Ferry is a threat because of his ties to an organization once deemed a terrorist group.

"The IRA has killed a lot of innocent civilians. Is that correct?" Scott Johns, assistant chief counsel under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asked Ferry.

Johns downplayed the FBI's discussions with Ferry, noting that it would have been possible to keep Ferry's cooperation secret if the family had not sought publicity on his case.

Ferry has maintained that he and his two IRA cohorts were en route to a secret IRA training camp.

Now, he's pinning his hopes on the U.S. court system to allow him to live legally here. His family has also filed a brief in federal court arguing that Ferry is being unlawfully detained.

"I see the American justice system as a just system," Ferry testified. "The things I was convicted of I would not have been convicted of in the U.S. justice system."

His wife, Heaven, 27, a Web designer for the city of Arvada who lives with her parents, said she believes the family would be in danger in Ireland because her husband's name appeared on a Loyalist hit list.

But Johns questioned whether Ferry's life would be in danger and said that Ferry was still active with the IRA in 1997 while he was detained. At that time, the U.S. considered the IRA a terrorist organization.

Ferry said he lost his active IRA status the day he was jailed in Ireland.

"I hope the court recognizes my convictions were of a political nature and that the court recognizes I have done nothing wrong in the U.S.," said Ferry, in an emotional closing statement.

Until the case is decided, Ferry will remain in the Denver County Jail in solitary confinement. He was offered a chance to join the general population but declined because he doesn't believe he's a criminal.

Ferry has also given up contact visits with his wife and daughter because he believes it's degrading to be strip-searched after each visit.

"Even al-Qaida people were treated better than this," said Deanna Turner, spokeswoman for the Irish American Unity Conference who attended the hearing.

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