by Susan Mckay (for Irish News)
When the police came to arrest Roisin McAliskey in May her daughter Loinnir was annoyed at the intrusion. After all, as she kept pointing out to the assembled adults in her house, “It’s my birthday”.
Like a cruel joke, the German demand for McAliskey’s extradition was delivered 10 years to the day after she gave birth to Loinnir, under armed guard, in a London hospital. It came seven years after she was told she would not face charges in relation to a failed IRA bomb attack in Germany, because the British authorities had found that there was no evidence on which to base a case against her.
Germany first demanded McAliskey’s extradition in 1996 to face charges in connection with the attack on a British army base in Osnabrueck.
They said a piece of cellophane with her fingerprints on it had been found at a house rented by the IRA before the attack and that a witness had seen her there.
The cellophane was, obviously, flimsy evidence. The witness said on television that he had not identified McAliskey. Her former employer said she was at work in Co Tyrone at the time of the incident. McAliskey has always maintained her innocence.
Four months pregnant, she was brought to Castlereagh holding station and questioned for a week. At one stage a detective came in and told her he was the person who had carried her out of the house the night her parents were shot and almost killed there in 1981, when she was nine. According to her mother, Bernadette, Roisin has suffered from post-traumatic stress since that horrific incident and her experience at Castlereagh plunged her back into it.
She was taken to Holloway jail, where she was, she said, chained like a bloody wild animal. She was categorised as Exceptional High Risk Category A. Then she was moved to a filthy cell in the all-male Belmarsh, then moved back to Holloway. She was strip-searched more than 70 times and was, at times, seriously ill. After her release, on substantial bail, she spent seven months in a London psychiatric hospital with Loinnir and, after the case against her was dropped, there was a further lengthy period of psychiatric care back in Ireland.
It was all very damaging to a young woman who was already fragile.
The British home secretary ordered psychiatric reports on her condition and, after considering these, ruled in March 1998 that it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite her. Two years later, in response to a parliamentary question, it was revealed that the British had reviewed all of the evidence the Germans intended to present in the case, with a view to prosecuting McAliskey in the UK.
The solicitor general had concluded that there was not a realistic prospect of convicting her of any offence.
At this point, McAliskey’s family thought the nightmare was over, breathed a sigh of relief and concentrated on helping her to recover her health and strength.
Seven years later McAliskey is the lone parent of her daughter and a two-year-old son.
The affair is Kafkaesque. It appears that no new evidence has emerged against her even though one man has since been convicted in relation to the Osnabrueck incident. What has changed is that EU legislation introduced in 2003 to fast-track extraditions means Germany is no longer required to prove that there is a prima facie case against the person it wants.
The German warrant was issued last November but only surfaced six months later, for reasons that have not been explained.
There is no obvious political motivation for its issue. It may well be that some eager bureaucrat has simply reached the letter M in his file of cases which might be capable of prosecution under the new law.
It is, thankfully, likely that this ludicrous case will be thrown out when it comes before the courts in Belfast in October.
McAliskey’s lawyers will have many strong arguments for her defence. However, it is worth considering other outcomes.
If extradited, McAliskey could face two years on remand in prison. If convicted, she could be sentenced to 10 years in jail.
If then returned to the north, she could be released under the Good Friday Agreement. Crazy.
Whatever happens, damage has already, undoubtedly, been done. A vulnerable woman has once again been put under intense pressure for no apparent reason. This application is cruel and unnecessary and the German authorities should be put under pressure to abandon it.