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12 November 1998 Edition

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Joe Doherty - free at last

By Ned Kelly

Walking through the New Lodge streets of his childhood, Doherty remarks ``it hasn't changed a bit''.

But then as we turn to face one of the tower blocks that dot the cityscape Doherty points up, ``it was a tough nine years in America, an experience. For many of those years I was in solitary [fighting extradition], maybe just one hour a week recreation on the rooftop of a sealed building. I had just a wee window out into the city, the Federal Plaza and of course Joe Doherty Corner [named after himself].''

Smiling, Doherty says, ``the jail governor had his office on 150 Park South and Joe Doherty Corner, every day he had to look out at it.''

``People in America were fantastic, after five years or so there was a interview with me and so many people, politicians, union activists, the media and even movie stars became involved. The lawyers and politicians in New York really supported me. I guess they were embarrassed that I had been held for nine years with no charge.''

Since Doherty's release there have been telegrams of congratulations from all over the world but one suspects the welcome home was perhaps the most important.

Doherty said, ``getting back to my family has been great. This really is my first time home in 27 years, before I never even unpacked my bags, my mum has been waiting 27 years. It's good to be just sitting with the family, taking kids to the pictures.''

Next on Doherty's list is the community. After gaining a university degree while in prison he says, ``I'm looking forward to putting all that theory into practice. It's not that I want to travel the world, I want to get out into the community. I was born and raised here and I'll probably die here and there's so much to do, the deprivation, unemployment, crime, drugs.''

Looking up at the mural that bears his face, Doherty says it is due to be painted over soon.

``What is important is what you replace it with, it must benefit the community. Something for young people or about unemployment,'' he says.

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