Treaty ‘unfair to Irish-Americans’
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A controversial US-UK extradition treaty would “threaten, intimidate, harass and persecute and terrorise Irish-American citizens”, a legal expert will tell Congress this week.
The UK government has urged the Senate to ratify the 2003 treaty, which has come under fresh scrutiny following the extradition last week of three former NatWest investment bankers to the US to face charges related to the Enron scandal.
Critics of Tony Blair have said the US failure to ratify the treaty is another example of his government acting as a “poodle” to President George W. Bush.
Britain has, in effect, already incorporated the provisions of the 2003 treaty into law, making it easier to extradite British citizens to the US, without securing the corresponding benefits that were offered by the US.
The prime minister’s push last week for ratification succeeded in boosting the profile of the issue in Washington and increased optimism among its supporters that the pact would be approved this year.
Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, quickly announced he would hold a hearing on Wednesday, the first public attention to the matter on Capitol Hill since a November 2005 session.
Nevertheless, groups such as the Irish American Unity Conference and the Ancient Order of Hibernians fear the treaty will enable the UK to prosecute Irish-Americans who support separatists in Northern Ireland.
Francis A. Boyle, law professor at the University of Illinois, said: “The text of this treaty is primarily designed to go after the Irish-American community” which opposes the “continued illegal British colonial presence in Northern Ireland”.
He will testify against the treaty before the foreign relations committee, along with several supporters of the pact, including officials from the US departments of state and justice.
Mr Boyle, an outspoken critic of President Bush, says the new treaty violates the rights of Irish-American citizens and fails to protect people who express support for northern Irish independence.
The existing treaty, which dates from the early 1970s and was supplemented in 1985, protected such people by including exemptions for certain categories of “political offences.” But the new treaty, Mr Boyle will tell the Senate, eliminates these protections “in all but name”.
Mr Boyle says Irish-American lobbying groups and citizens “will oppose this treaty to the death”.
He threatened repercussions in November’s mid-term elections if the Republican-dominated Senate ratified the treaty.
“[Irish-Americans] are not pleased, and we will make our influence known,” he said. “Tony Blair is not going to vote in the November elections but 20m Irish-Americans are.”
Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader who sets the Senate schedule, said last week after a meeting with Baroness Scotland, Home Office minister, that he wanted to ratify the treaty this year.
He said he would try to move it to the Senate floor for action as soon as the foreign relations committee completed its work.
Baroness Scotland and Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, used meetings last week with senators and administration officials to push for quick ratification of the pact.
In spite of the objections to the treaty from lobby groups, no senator has spoken out publicly against it.
However, some senators with close Irish-American links are understood to have voiced concerns about the pact.
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