ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 1998, British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood before a packed House of Commons and announced that there would be a new inquiry into one of the most tragic events of Ireland’s “Troubles”—Bloody Sunday.
Later that evening, Derry’s Bloody Sunday families gathered in the city’s Guild Hall for a press conference. “For 26 years we have been campaigning to establish truth and justice in respect of the events of Bloody Sunday,” said John Kelly, brother of one of Bloody Sunday’s fourteen dead. “We hope that the historic potential of today’s developments will be fulfilled and we can finally heal the wounds left by Bloody Sunday.”
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, the veteran civil rights campaigner and former MP, also gave cautious welcome to the Prime Minister’s announcement. McAliskey had taken part in the ill-fated anti-internment march twenty-six years ago. She was on the speaker’s platform when the Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed civilians.
“I am pleased,” said McAliskey,” that the British government has finally afforded at least a measure of justice to the families of the men who were killed that day.” She was quick to add, however, that she didn’t want to wait twenty-six years for justice for her daughter Roisin.
Until recently, Roisin McAliskey had been imprisoned in England without formal charges or bail. She was held in London’s Holloway Prison for six months while pregnant, awaiting extradition to Germany in connection with an IRA mortar attack on a British Army barracks.
Roisin’s German lawyer, Elke Nill, believes the impetus for the extradition came from the RUC (the Six County police force) and not from German federal police. Not surprisingly, the RUC have ignored the extensive evidence confirming Roisin’s presence in Ireland on the dates when they allege she was spotted in Germany.
The conditions of Roisin’s imprisonment were horrendous and provoked an international outcry. Human rights groups around the world raised their voices in protest and argued that the British government’s treatment of Roisin amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. She suffered some of the worst conditions endured by Irish political prisoners in Britain.
In May 1997, a High Court Judge released Roisin from prison on a limited form of bail. Three days later—under armed guard in a London hospital—Roisin gave birth to a baby girl.
Roisin McAliskey is now in a mother-and-baby unit at London’s Maudsley psychiatric hospital. She is recovering from the trauma of her interrogation, detention and imprisonment and is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. Hospital psychiatrists have already certified that extraditing the young woman could cause her permanent emotional and psychological damage.
On 2 January, a British magistrate ordered that Roisin McAliskey be extradited to Germany. Now that the formal order to extradite has been issued, Roisin’s fate lies in the hands of Jack Straw, the British Home Secretary.
Straw can order McAliskey’s extradition at any time. If sent to Germany, Roisin is likely to spend the next two years in prison before even coming to trial. She would also be separated from her child. In the interests of justice, however, the Home Secretary can also deny the extradition. Back in November of last year he was sent a complete file on Roisin detailing the lack of any case against her. It is within his power to release the young Irish woman.
A decision one way or another was expected in the last week of January; it never came. Roisin’s mother has already expressed concerns that, in the wake of Tony Blair’s Bloody Sunday announcement, the British government would not now move to release her daughter.
“We had expected to get the good or bad news by the end of January,” she said. “I expect they’ll drag their feet now until those who are upset by the Bloody Sunday move settle down.”
Sadly, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is probably right. In the end, the Home Secretary’s decision will be a political decision based upon progress or lack thereof in the so-called Irish “peace process.”
In these historic negotiations, those issues which go to the core of Ireland’s “Troubles”—basic human rights and social justice issues—have been sidelined by both the British and Irish governments. They are used as bargaining chips and nothing more.
This says a lot about the “peace process” and its likelihood for success.
Write to British Home Secretary Jack Straw and ask that McAliskey not be extradited: 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, London SW1 England, or fax 011-44-171-273-3965.
For more information on the case, contact Friends of Roisin McAliskey, c/o O’Dwyer & Bernstein, 52 Duane Street, New York, NY 10038, phone/fax 718-436-4770, website: http://www.bailfree.org
ATC 73, March-April 1998