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How Many OTRs Are There?

How many on the runs (OTRs) are there in America? OTRs are the members of the IRA and Loyalist members who skipped Ireland before their trials, escaped in jailbreaks, or were just never apprehended.

Given that the Troubles lasted 25 years there are bound to be significant numbers here, given that the U.S. was a major destination for OTRs up until very recently.

One has only to look at many arrests made over the years by the FBI of alleged IRA men hiding out in America. That would seem to indicate that the number of OTRs would actually be very high here.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Indeed, it is thought that some of the more infamous missing IRA men and women are now living here under assumed names. It could be well over 50 members according to one observer. They will range in age from the mid fifties down to more recent “imports.”

The issue of OTRs is a major one, and the British and Irish governments are presently deciding how best to proceed with resolving the issue. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made it clear that he wants it resolved, while his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, has spoken of a presidential amnesty in the south.

Both are being fiercely resisted by opponents of giving the OTRs blanket amnesty. However, it is hard to argue with the fact that prisoners were given a general amnesty after the ceasefires, so why should the OTRs be treated any differently?

O’Hare a Famous OTR

OF course, one of the more famous OTRs is Sinn Fein’s North America representative Rita O’Hare, who has done an extraordinary job building up the party in the U.S.

Rita O’Hare

She absconded on bail from her native Belfast while awaiting trial in 1973 on charges of attempted murder of British troops. Since then she has been a top level operative for Sinn Fein in the Irish Republic, including for a spell being editor of An Phoblacht, the Republican newspaper.

O’Hare, known as the “Granny of Death” in one lurid newspaper headline, is immensely popular with politicians of all stripes, and she had a particularly good relationship with the late lamented former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam. The diminutive O’Hare lives in Dublin these days when she is not in the U.S.

There is no question that O’Hare and the many other OTRs, including several allegedly in Central America, would receive a massive welcome home in Belfast from Republicans. The surprise might well be the number of Loyalists who have also found their way to the U.S. and Canada especially.

How They Got Here

In the early days of the Troubles there were many ways for IRA OTRs to come to America, but among the most popular methods was to depend on sympathetic workers at Aer Lingus who managed to bring several in, or to sneak across the border from Canada.

Once in America they were faced with a dilemma. Should they stay away from all Irish activities and friends, or try to establish new links with trusted Irish associates here?

Some took the latter option. Paul O’Dwyer, the legendary civil rights lawyer, remembered buying train tickets for some to the final destination on long distance train journeys. They got off at the other end and made new lives.

Others stayed close to the community, which was a risky tactic as the FBI kept pretty close tabs on Irish organizations throughout the Troubles.

Indeed, the arrest of three IRA escapees in California was directly linked to someone in the Irish community turning them in.

Clinton for Irish Fundraiser

An Irish evening with former President Bill Clinton will be held on Tuesday, December 6 at the penthouse of the 1199/SEIU union on 42nd Street in Manhattan.

The evening will be a fundraiser for Senator Hillary Clinton for her upcoming Senate race, though it looks more and more likely that she will be a shoo-in for re-election.

Among the members of the committee who are organizing the Irish event are Congressman Joe Crowley; attorney Frank Durkan; Mike Dowling, head of the North Shore LIJ hospital system on Long Island; former Congressman Tom Manton; union leader Ed Malloy; Irish American Democrats head Stella O’Leary; lawyer Brian O’Dwyer and Wall Street’s Al Smith.

The campaign is expecting about $150,000 in funds from the event, an ambitious target but one that is eminently reachable with the former president as the main guest. Tickets are $500 a head.

Collins, Biden To Be Honoured

Another fundraiser, this time the annual American Ireland Fund bash in Washington, D.C. on March 16 of next year, will feature awards for Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. Also honoured will be businessman Jack McDonnell.

Senator Joe Biden

Biden does not have an Irish last name, but his mother’s maiden name was Finnegan. Her people were from Derry, and like many in that city they came across the ocean to work in the Dupont factory in Delaware. Biden was raised in the Irish stronghold of Fishtown in Wilmington.

Biden is reasonably active on Irish issues, Collins less so, but there seems little question that she is becoming more involved. The Washington bash is annually the biggest Irish event in the nation’s capital.


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