Court Frees IRA Supporter Wanted in Britain on Weapons Charge
DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a British request to extradite an IRA supporter and former legislator on a firearms charge, ruling he must be freed because the offense was politically inspired.
Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke, who was in Dublin for unrelated talks, told reporters: ″We are greatly disturbed.″
The decision cast a new shadow over Anglo-Irish relations, exacerbating a long dispute about extradition of Irish Republican Army suspects.
Owen Carron, 37, a former member of the British Parliament for the outlawed IRA’s political front, Sinn Fein, left the court surrounded by cheering supporters. ″I’m delighted,″ the former schoolteacher declared before being driven away in brilliant spring sunshine.
In Belfast, capital of Northern Ireland, the British authorities said the unanimous ruling by the five-judge court was ″most worrying.″
″We cannot accept that acts of terrorism which put people’s lives at risk ... are in any way political,″ the Northern Ireland Office added in a statement.
Three weeks ago, the Irish Supreme Court freed two IRA men who had escaped from jail in Northern Ireland, saying there was a risk they would be beaten up by prison guards if they were extradited. Both men were serving 18-year terms on terrorism convictions.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the reason given by the court was ″grossly offensive.″ She said the refusal to extradite the men, Dermot Finucane and James Pius Clark, would encourage terrorists to believe they would probably find a safe haven in the republic.
Carron jumped bail in Northern Ireland in January 1986 while awaiting trial on charges of possessing an assault rifle.
He fled to the republic, was arrested in 1988 and has since fought rulings by two lower courts ordering his extradition.
He was elected as a Northern Ireland member of the British Parliament in 1981 on a wave of sympathy for Bobby Sands, the first of 10 hunger strikers who died in jail during a political protest. Carron lost his seat two years later.
The British Broadcasting Corp., in a report from Belfast, said the freeing of Carron probably means Britain will be unable to get any IRA members extradited for offenses committed before 1987.
That was when Ireland signed the European Convention of Terrorism, which undermines the ability of terrorist suspects to avoid extradition by pleading political motivation.
The Irish government counters British protests by pointing out that courts are independent of government control.
However, the extradition dispute is straining the 1985 Anglo-Irish accord, which was intended to improve cooperation against the IRA.
The mainly Roman Catholic IRA, banned on both sides of the border, is fighting a guerrilla campaign to unite Northern reland with the republic under a leftist administration.
The Anglo-Irish accord angered leaders of Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority because it gave the Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland a consultative role in the running of the British administration of the province.
The Northern Ireland Office says there have been a total of 154 warrants since 1971 for extraditions from the republic and seven suspected terrorists have been returned.