A U.S. court has significantly ruled that a west Belfast man’s conviction in connection with the IRA killing of two British soldiers was political.
Sean O Cealleagh won a major victory in his fight against deportation from the US, but US immigration authorities have indicated they will appeal the decision.
Mr O Cealleagh remains in a detention centre in California, where he worked as a barman following his release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He is a US permanent resident, has an American wife, Geraldine, and a three-year-old son.
The court ruled under a section of the US Immigration and Nationality Act that allows convicted prisoners to stay in the US if their conviction was an entirely political offence based on “fabricated charges or predicated upon repressive measures against racial religious or political minorities.”
Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey welcomed the ruling.
“Sean O Cealleagh was displaced as a result of the political conflict in Ireland,” he said.
“The court recognition of the fact that the charges against Sean O Cealleagh were political is an important step forward.”
Mr O Cealleagh is one of the Casement Three jailed for ‘aiding and abetting’ the killings of the two soldiers who were shot when their vehicle crashed into a republican funeral in March 1988.
The original case was brought before a special juryless court and the conviction has been described by human rights activists as a miscarriage of justice.
The US Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency has recently sought to deport Mr O Cealleagh, claiming his conviction amounted to a crime of “moral turpitude”.
Footage used by British forces to identify Mr O Cealleagh was shown in court. Mr O Cealleagh said he was on the periphery of an angry crowd of mourners which surrounded the soldiers before their deaths and never touched the two soldiers.
On Saturday, immigration Judge Rose Peters ruled that his crime was “purely political”, presenting no grounds for his removal from the US.