THE Tyrone chairman of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement has expressed disappointment after he was refused entry into Canada.
Francis Mackey was detained with two other members of the anti-agreement republican group on arrival at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport after departing Dublin on Wednesday.
A former chairman of Omagh District Council, Mr Mackey, who is from Mountfield, had travelled to Canada along with Belfast man Martin Rafferty and Peter Fitzsimons from Louth as part of a planned six day speaking tour in the North American country.
However all three were taken into custody upon arrival in Canada and questioned before being transferred to holding facilities and sent home on Thursday evening.
Speaking to the Tyrone Herald after he arrived home on Friday morning, Mr Mackey said that immigration officials were waiting for them when they arrived in Toronto.
“They based a lot of their assertion on American law and the fact we are proscribed in the US.
“That was the main evidence they were looking at in making their decision,” he said.
While the 32 County Sovereignty Movement is included in a United States list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), it does not appear on the list of organisations proscribed by Canada.
The Mountfield man said the immigration officials informed them that they had been made aware of their impending arrival. “Obviously someone at a political level had taken the decision,” he said.
During the course of questioning, the three men missed the next flight back to Dublin and had to be transferred to a holding facility for some 24 hours until the next available flight.
While Mr Mackey was taken to an immigration detention centre, Mr Rafferty and Mr Fitzsimons were taken to the maximum security Maplehurst Correctional Complex.
“It was a political decision taken in Canada. Talking to people in Canada, they have said ‘so much for Canadian freedom’ if they are basing their decision on American law,” said Mr Mackey.
Formed in 1997 by republicans critical of the political direction taken by the Sinn Féin leadership, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement opposes the Good Friday Agreement. The group has been linked to the Real IRA, who planted the Omagh bomb in August 1998 which killed 29 people and two unborn babies.
First elected onto Omagh District Council in 1985, Francis Mackey remained an Omagh Town councillor for 16 years, before opting not to contest his seat in 2001.
He became an outspoken critic of Sinn Féin’s support for the Good Friday Agreement and was suspended by the party before resigning in June 1998 after joining the committee of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.
“I suppose if we were going back to Canada we would look at the thing in a whole different manner,” said the former councillor. “There are lessons to be learned by everyone, including ourselves.”
The republican said he would consider making representations to the Canadian embassy ahead of any potential visits in future.
“It’s disappointing for us, it’s disappointing for the people who had organised functions for us, but I suppose there are positives in all of this. Those functions are going ahead, the same message is going to be delivered, albeit not by us.”
Mr Mackey said delegations from Cuba, Venezuela and South Africa were also due to attend some of the functions in Canada.
“It was a political decision to keep the violation of Irish national sovereignty under wraps and continue to portray to the world by the British Government, Leinster House and Stormont that the issues of conflict have been resolved.
“More and more people are starting to realise that is not the case, thus our invite to Canada,” he added.