Former PIRA member returning to N. Ireland

By Joseph A. Slobodzian
Inquirer Staff Wrter
July 19, 2004

A former member of the banned Provisional Irish Republican Army who was arrested earlier this month at Philadelphia International Airport as he arrived to attend a wedding likely will return to Northern Ireland this weekend.

The attorney for Joseph Henry Black told a federal judge today that Black would plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to disclose his past PIRA membership on his nonimmigrant visa form.

Daniel P. McElhatton told U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter that federal prosecutors seemed willing to expedite proceedings.

"Mr. Black has a ticket to return this weekend, and we're going to do everything we can to move this along," McElhatton said.

Black, 46, of Belfast, said nothing during the brief court appearance. He smiled and waved at his weeping wife and children, who with supporters filled much of the small courtroom.

McElhatton said that Black and his family arrived in Philadelphia on July 7
on the way to a wedding of Black's niece in Pittsburgh.

Black, however, was detained by U.S. customs agents and charged with failing to disclose that he served three years in prison for a 1977 shooting as a PIRA member.

The U.S. nonimmigrant visa form requires a tourist to swear that he or she has never been arrested or convicted of an offense of "moral turpitude" or engaged in "espionage, sabotage or terrorist activities."

Some IRA members have refused on principle to answer the visa question because they regard their activities as part of a war against British rule in Northern Ireland, not terrorism.

Federal prosecutors have said they do not believe Black was here for illegal purposes. Court documents say Black admitted that he had not disclosed his background and was no longer a PIRA member.

But, court documents say, Black was a PIRA member assigned to D Company, Belfast Brigade, when he was arrested in 1977 for shooting someone in the knee with a .45-caliber revolver.

Black was convicted in May 1978 of possession of firearms and ammunition, wounding with intent, and "membership in a proscribed organization." He was sentenced to three years in the Long Kesh prison near Belfast.

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2658 or
_jslobodzian@phillynews.com_ (mailto:jslobodzian@phillynews.com) .

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