Irish Echo

Activist groups move to block Thatcher

By Ray O'Hanlon

With the fate of Belfast man Ciaran Ferry fresh in their minds, Irish-American activists this week were closely watching the increasingly bizarre situation surrounding Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher last week reached a plea bargain agreement with South African prosecutors in which he admitted to being an unwitting participant in an alleged plot to topple the government of the oil-rich West Africa state of Equatorial Guinea.

"Irish-Americans feel that if there is to be a fair and balanced policy, Mark Thatcher should not be allowed to enter the U.S. having pleaded guilty to involvement in the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt," Father Sean McManus of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus said.

According to British newspaper reports, Thatcher was this week back in London with his mother, now Baroness Thatcher.

He had earlier flown from Cape Town to Frankfurt, Germany, from where he was hoping to rejoin his American wife, Diane, and the couple's two children, who are living in Dallas, Texas.

But his U.S. visa was found to have expired. Reports indicate that Thatcher is now to secure a renewal. This could take some weeks and the fact that Thatcher now carries a criminal conviction could stymie his trans-Atlantic travel plans.

The INC's McManus said that the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt "surely comes" under the heading of international terrorism.

"If Irish persons have been banned from entering the U.S. for far lesser reasons, then surely this would-be mercenary should be banned too," he said in reference to Thatcher. "If you harbor a terrorist you are a terrorist is the Bush doctrine. President Bush should apply it to Thatcher and bar him entry to the U.S."

McManus accused the president of already applying a double standard by funding former British army officer Tim Spicer with a $293 million private security contract in Iraq."

"He must not now compound his error by giving safe harbor to Thatcher, a buddy of Spicer," McManus said.

Spicer, who commanded the Scots Guards regiment in Belfast when unarmed teenager Peter McBride was shot dead in 1992 by soldiers under his command, has been linked in reports to the investigation of the coup plot.

"News that Mark 'Scratcher' Thatcher has pleaded guilty in South Africa over his part in an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea will again raise questions about the mercenary network linked to Tim Spicer, former Scots Guards officer in Belfast and friend of the Pentagon," the Pat Finucane Center in Northern Ireland said in its reaction to the Thatcher plea.

"Both Thatcher and Spicer belonged to a gang of English white guys out to plunder Africa, white man's burden and all that," McManus said.

Spicer, he said, was now "plundering the American taxpayer to the tune of $293 million."

Andy Somers, national president of the Irish American Unity Conference, said that his organization would be looking for equality of treatment for Ciaran Ferry should Mark Thatcher be allowed enter the U.S.

While Thatcher's family is in Dallas, Ferry's wife, Heaven, and the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Fiona, are in Colorado.

A onetime IRA member, Ferry was deported from the U.S. just before Christmas after spending two years in a Denver prison.

"We could put Mark Thatcher in a Denver jail for a couple of years while we sort things out," Somers said. "Plotting to overthrow the government of a country is a very violent crime. We feel very strongly about this."

In return for his release, Thatcher paid a fine to the South African authorities and agreed to help in their investigation of the coup plot.

This story appeared in the issue of January 19-25, 2005

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