The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Deporting the burly bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh

Seaghán Ó Murchú • 25 March 2004

U.S. border and immigration agents threaten to deport Seán Ó Cealleagh for “moral turpitude.” One of the “Casement Three,” he was convicted of kidnapping, GBH, and “aiding and abetting” the March 19th 1988 murder of Derek Howes and David Woods, British corporals, at the funeral of IRA volunteer Kevin Brady, which in turn followed the Gibraltar killings and the attack by Michael Stone at Milltown. He denied that he was present when the corporals were killed, and that after he had babysat for his aunt in Poleglass, his taxi home had been caught up in the crowds coming from Brady’s burial down Andytown Road. The Diplock court, citing television footage from a helicopter and press coverage, obtained a sentence of life for Seán Ó Cealleagh at Long Kesh.

After 8 ½ years, he was released but never pardoned. Emigrating to the suburbs south of Los Angeles, he married, had a child, and found work a bar near the beach. As the L.A. Times opened its article: “Customers at O’Malley’s pub in Seal Beach knew Sean Kelly as the burly bartender with a brogue who helped them forget their troubles by belting out wry Celtic ballads and serving up pints of Guinness.” Yet this stereotypical slant on an oul’ Belfast native conflicts with the post-9/11 crackdown by American officials of “convicted felons.” Since Ó Cealleagh’s conviction was still on the British books, the U.S., although admitting him without knowledge of his conviction, now seek to deport him. Having secured permanent resident status in 2001, this retroactive reaction by U.S. enforcers now denies Ó Cealleagh the earlier freedom granted him by his adopted nation.

His lawyers, Jim Byrne and John Farrell, contest the U.S. action on grounds that the British unfairly persecuted and prosecuted the Casement Three. The defendant and his counsel will respond that the case against Ó Cealleagh must be reviewed by an American and not a British judge, and that inconsistencies in the original Diplock court and its exclusion of witnesses and evidence must be re-examined according to U.S. standards. Therefore, the potential of this case upon other republicans and their ability to enter or stay in the U.S. becomes noteworthy. The Federal officials insist that Ó Cealleagh falsified information on his “green card”; he counters that he had told U.S. authorities of his past prison term during the application process.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram in its coverage explained further points the Times omitted. First, that Ó Cealleagh and not Kelly is the surname preferred by the defendant. Such a detail may appear minor taken against the larger case against him. Yet, in my opinion, the right—in Ireland and abroad—for Irish to use their Gaelicised names rather than their Anglicised ones remains symbolic of the greater issue: respect for an indigenous culture and language too often denied in this age of globalisation, when accents and fadaí become resistance against the homogenised word-processor (which I pound awkwardly against to make fadaí!) and the government application that boxes and bubbles us into discrete units. (In a future article, I will explore these ideas further.)

Next, that “moral turpitude”--according to spokeswoman Virginia Kice of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as quoted in the Press-Telegram: Although there is no specific formula for moral turpitude, people are denied entry to the United States if they have been convicted of such crimes as murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, arson, bribery, alien smuggling and perjury. Crimes not involving moral turpitude include simple assault without a weapon, vagrancy, carrying a concealed weapon, tax evasion and possession of narcotics, and these are not an automatic barrier to enter the United States.

Refusing to let Ó Cealleagh remain in his new homeland, in the name of a supposed heightened “security,” saves nobody. If terrorists lurk to overthrow the U.S., I doubt that they will be found among Irish émigrés. Labelling with a creaky harrumph as “moral turpitude” what has been documented as a very weak case against Ó Cealleagh only weakens any moral foundation upon which the U.S. officials can claim to pursue justice.

Speaking of morals, defining “murder” leads to another problem with Ó Cealleagh’s case. Beyond his own involvement (or what the silenced witnesses and ignored evidence would presumably prove to be his innocence in a fair judicial setting) involvement we must open up the responsibility of those in Casement Park who ended the lives of Howes and Woods. In republican thinking, do the actions of those who killed the two corporals constitute murder? This is not to diminish the brutality of the way in which these two soldiers, in civilian clothing, met their death. I refuse to engage in “whataboutery”—this only takes us back to Brady, to Stone, to the Gibraltar Three, who in turn….Still, the time and place in which these deaths occurred and the crackdown by the Thatcher government cannot easily be packaged for media or local consumption, as burly balladeering barmen.

Ó Cealleagh was railroaded. Soldiers were butchered. Fingers point back and forth. But, as Nicholas Eckert’s book Fatal Encounter: The Story of the Gibraltar Killings (Poolbeg, 1999) documents, the fear and hatred which these two men sparked as they veered onto the sidewalk into the cortage, the reaction by all levels of the British and local authorities against hundreds of innocent people in one of the largest investigations ever, and the injustices perpetrated after that horrible month of March demand that any attempt to rectify past criminality must not itself lead to more criminal behaviour, not only in Belfast but through evils instigated at the hands of the Crown and the U.S. government.

Ó Cealleagh’s now at the Federal jail on the fittingly named Terminal Island, near the harbor. He had gone back to Belfast as godfather at his nephew’s christening. Waiting to disembark at Los Angeles airport, he was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration officials. They claimed they had “been alerted to his criminal past as he was leaving Ireland,”according to the Times. He will appear April 20th for a hearing to determine his future. The Press-Telegram notes that defense counsel “Farrell said the chance for O'Cealleagh to have his case reviewed in an American court is "huge" because many of the controversial elements used against him under British law won't apply”.

At the evidentiary hearing, the defense will be able to present declarations from Ireland that will be accepted as testimony and the government will be given the opportunity to refute the evidence. The prosecution will also present certified original documents pertaining to the conviction that were not available” at the hearing on Tuesday, March 23rd. O’Malley’s held a fundraiser last weekend and raised $7500 in a couple of hours.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

25 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Deporting the Burly Bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh
Seaghán Ó Murchú


For Being Irish in the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time
Breandán Morley


Lords' Ruling Timed to Stymie Collusion Inquiries

Eamonn McCann


Cannabis Ard Fheis Blow
Mick Hall


Why Growth and Power in Both Parts of A Divided Country Will Do Sinn Fein Just Fine
Anthony McIntyre


In Defence of the Crown
Eamon Sweeney


Game Playing by "Free Trade" Rules
Toni Solo


Social Inequality, Grinding Poverty, State Negligence
Cédric Gouverneur


22 March 2004


A Momentous Week in Madrid
Douglas Hamilton


Shinner Sing-A-Long
Brian Mór


Biggles and the Provos

Kevin Bean


'The Solidarity of Those Who Struggle for Justice'
Willie Gallagher


Truth, Power and Dissent
Anthony McIntyre


The Irish Hero - A Multidisciplinary Conference in Irish Studies
Centre for Irish Studies


The 2004 Jonathan Swift Poetry Competition
Dr John Hirsch


The Letters page has been updated.




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