Bernadette McAllister, wife of former INLA man Malachy McAllister, has died in the US after a battle against cancer.
The 45-year-old, who had been fighting against government deportation proceedings along with her husband and four children, died in hospital in New Jersey.
Mr McAllister said he believed that the stress his wife had gone through over the last few years may have been a contributing factor in her becoming ill.
A statement posted on the McAllister Family Campaign Web site said it was “with deep sadness that we inform our supporters of the death of Bernadette McAllister, wife of Malachy, who succumbed to cancer on May 10, 2004.”
“Bernie,” the statement said, “put up a strong fight the past couple of weeks, just as she did when U.S. government agents stormed her home this past November, and when a loyalist death squad attacked her former home in Belfast. Please pray for her soul, and for Malachy and their children.”
The death of Bernadette McAllister prompted immediate expressions of sympathy from Irish American organizations and activists who had been engaged in the family’s marathon legal battle to remain in the U.S.
The Irish American Unity Conference expressed its “deepest regret” in a statement.
“It’s tragic. Everybody is shocked,” said Larry Downes, president of Friends of Sinn Féin.
In January a Philadelphia court granted the family motions for stays of removal, meaning that they could stay in the country temporarily. More recently the family’s battle to stay in the US received a political boost when they met Senator Hillary Clinton at an Irish American event in New York.
They have also been backed by members of congress from both main political parties.
The family fled to Canada from Belfast in 1988 after unionists fired 26 shots into their home on the lower Ormeau Road.