Northern Ireland: Republican activists arrested

May 31, 2007

The arrest of two prominent Republican activists has strained the new power-sharing government in Stormont (the Northern Ireland Assembly), established between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party of Ian Paisley in May. In January, as a step towards a coalition with the DUP, SF agreed to recognise the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI); SF members took up positions on the Policing Board for the first time on May 31.

On May 18, former Irish Republican Army prisoner Brian Arthurs was arrested then released without charge two days later. On May 21, Roisin McAliskey was arrested by the PSNI on an eight-month-old international arrest warrant issued by German authorities, in relation to an October 1996 IRA mortar attack on a British army barracks in Germany in which no-one was injured.

McAliskey, daughter of prominent Republican and civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, has always denied being involved in the attack. She was originally arrested in November 1996. Two months' pregnant at the time, she was held in an all-male English maximum security awaiting extradition to Germany; she was released on bail three days before giving birth.

In 1998, she was found to be too ill to be extradited, and then in 2000, the British Crown Prosecution Service found that there was not enough evidence to try her in Britain. McAliskey was released on bail until a hearing in June.

Republicans are questioning not only the legality of her re-arrest, but also the timing, claiming it is aimed at putting pressure on Republicans in the Stormont executive. SF's Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister of the Stormont government, supported McAliskey at her court hearing. He called on the German authorities to "immediately drop their demand for Roisin's extradition".

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