A federal appeals court in Washington last month upheld Secretary of State Colin Powell's designation of two Irish political groups, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee -- also known as the 32 County Sovereignty Movement -- and the Irish Republican Prisoners and Welfare Association as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations" for being "aliases" of the Real IRA.
The Real IRA broke away in late 1997 from the Irish Republican Army, also called the Provisional IRA or Provos, because it objected to the cease-fire called by the IRA in 1997 and to the involvement of the republican movement in the Irish peace process.
It is unlawful for a person in the United States to provide funds or other material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Everyone says money is involved, but no one is saying how much.
Court documents said: "The British government officially described the 32CSM as the political wing of the RIRA which is committed to terrorist violence as a way of achieving its goal of a united Ireland and that most fundraising in the United States for the RIRA is likely to be done under the auspices of the IRPWA and whose membership is almost exclusively made up of 32CSM."
These assessments were strongly supported by the FBI, and "the intelligence community believes the RIRA has significant control over 32CSM and that these two organizations are not independent of one another," the court papers said. However, there was little evidence released to back up the assertions.
The Real IRA took responsibility for a 500-pound car bomb set off in the Northern Irish town of Omagh. The bomb killed 28 civilians including nine children and injured 220. It was the worst single act in three decades of Irish troubles, in which some 3,600 people have been killed.
But labeling the groups as terrorist organizations does not sit well with some Irish supporters in the United States.
Martin Galvin, a supporter of the groups, told United Press International: "The 32CSM is a legal political organization based on the premise that all 32 counties of Ireland need to be united, and the IRPWA raised money for the families of prisoners in Ireland and they are separate and distinct from the RIRA. ...(Now) These groups have been banned and we think it is illegal and improper."
These were legal, open organizations with a political viewpoint that was not anti-American, Galvin said, and by banning them it shows open debate by American citizens is at risk.
In October 1997, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright approved the designation of the first 30 groups as FTOs but she did not include the IRA or the Sinn Fein, the legal political movement dedicated to removing British forces from Northern Ireland, because they had both called for a cease-fire and the peace process had begun.
According to Galvin the 32CSM had a Web site, published a newspaper that had about 1,000 subscribers, held news conferences, and lobbied politicians, mostly members of Congress.
"Part of the problem is that the law allows for declassified and classified evidence and we had no access to the classified portion of the evidence," Lynn Bernabei, the groups' attorney, told UPI. "It's really a throwback to the 1950s and McCarthyism when it was illegal to join some organizations -- what we are talking about is silencing dissent."
According to Bernabei, the three federal appeals judges did not rule on whether the groups had the opportunity to make their case, only that the court had the right to rule as it did -- something the groups had not disputed.
Some believe the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 sets civil liberties on a slippery slope.
"There is no opportunity to object and it's a serious problem to have the secretary of state in conjunction with the attorney general be judge and jury and ignore the fact that the government could ever be wrong," Ben Johnson, an advocate for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, told UPI.
"We all agree we don't want terrorists funded, but we have a commitment to due process and that's part of the freedoms we are defending, fighting and dying for, and we ought to preserve them."
Although the 1996 act was designed to cut fundraising of terrorist organizations in the United States, there is no mention in the court documents that the groups' bank accounts or assets had been frozen.
"I don't know about any money. There had been money raised for the newspaper of the 32CSM but it wasn't that much, maybe a couple of thousand dollars, or less," Galvin said.
"There are no huge assets," Bernabei said. "Money was given to families of prisoners in Ireland, but it was not a huge amount."
A source in London, who did not want to be identified, said that it was believed that the two groups had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and that over the past couple of decades millions and millions of dollars had been funneled from Americans to Ireland for terrorist activities.
Prosecutors with the Justice Department said that the case against the 32SCM and the IRPWA did not involve assets but the designation of the groups as a FTO, and any funds raised before that designation was not something the government could go after.
The State Department did not answer several telephone calls from UPI.
The banning of the two groups was set in motion May 16, 2001, long before the events of Sept. 11.
However, officials in the United States started taking another look at the Irish linkages among international terrorists after two members of the IRA, along with a representative of Sinn Fein stationed in Cuba and reportedly on the payroll of the Cuban Communist Party, were arrested by Colombian authorities in Bogota last August, according to a report of the House International Relations Committee, released in April.
James Monaghan, Martin McAuley and Niall Connolly are accused of supplying mortars and explosives training to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a well-trained guerrilla army with ties to narcotics traffickers, known by its Spanish initials, FARC.
Although Sinn Fein initially denied any connection to the three, it later admitted that Monaghan and McAuley both have IRA connections and Connolly was its representative in Cuba.
According to the London News Telegram, more than two dozen IRA members have been to Colombia since 1998 despite the group's cease-fire.
The House committee's report on the "Investigation of IRA Links to FARC" concluded that Colombia is a potential breeding ground for international terror equaled perhaps only by Afghanistan and it is likely that in the former FARC safe haven, terrorist groups had been sharing techniques, honing their terrorism skills, using illicit drug proceeds in payment and collectively helping to challenge the rule of law in Colombia.
Colombia produces 90 percent of the cocaine and at least 70 percent of the heroin sold in the United States, the report said.