Ireland Refuses Extradition of IRA Prisoners
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Ireland’s Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to extradite two escaped prisoners to Northern Ireland saying there was a risk they would be assaulted by prison staff in the British-ruled province.
The two men were freed after the hearing.
Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clarke escaped from Belfast’s Maze Prison in a mass Irish Republican Army breakout in 1983.
Both were serving 18-year terms when they escaped; Finucane, 30, for firearms offenses and Clarke, 34, for the attempted murder of a member of the Ulster Defense Regiment, a mainly Protestant, part-time regiment of the British Army.
Ireland’s Chief Justice Thomas Finlay said Finucane risked being ″assaulted or injured by illegal action by prison staff at the Maze″ if he were returned.
″I am satisfied that this court has to protect his constitutional rights,″ he said.
The chief justice’s ruling was unanimously supported by a panel of five judges of the Supreme Court, Ireland’s final legal authority.
After the decision was read Finucane was ordered released. He was immediately ushered out of the court by supporters and sped away on a waiting motorcycle.
Clarke was later released, following a separate court action, but on similar grounds. He walked out of the court calling the ruling ″brilliant.″
Finucane had claimed in earlier hearings that other prisoners involved in the mass IRA breakout from the Maze Prison were later subjected to harsh treatment by prison officers.
Kenneth Maginnis, spokesman for the Official Unionists, the main Protestant party in Northern Ireland, said the suggestion that the men risked assault in prison was ″absolute nonsense.″
He said the Supreme Court decision ″spells the death knell″ for the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the 1985 accord which gives Dublin a say in the running of Northern Ireland.
″Irrespective of how the two governments try to give it the kiss of life, it is probably dead on its feet,″ he said.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office, a branch of the British government, said: ″We are obviously disappointed that Finucane and Clarke will not be returned to Northern Ireland to complete their sentences.″
The two men were arrested in Ireland in 1987 and have been battling extradition since.
Sinn Fein, the legal political wing of the IRA, welcomed the court ruling, calling it ″a victory for all those who have fought so valiantly against the extradition of political dissidents to Britain.″
The IRA is fighting to end British rule of Northern Ireland and to unite the predominantly Protestant province with the mainly Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland.