Freedom for McAliskey and her baby

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The Independent Online
ROISIN McAliskey, who was wanted in Germany on suspicion of being a member of an IRA bombing team which attacked a British army barracks, was freed last night.

In a dramatic decision the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said he would not allow Ms McAliskey to be extradited to Germany on the grounds that it would be "unjust and oppressive".

The 26-year-old was on bail residing at the Maudsley Hospital's mother and baby unit in south London. It is understood that an independent psychiatric report suggested that her health had been seriously undermined by her detention and was deteriorating while on remand.

"She is a free woman," a Home Office spokeswoman said last night. However, it was not clear when she would be returning home to Northern Ireland. Her mother, the former MP for Mid Ulster, Bernadette McAliskey, will travel to Britain from her home in Coalisland today to see her daughter, who will not leave the hospital until she is well enough.

The decision not to extradite Ms McAliskey, who was wanted in Germany for questioning over the June 1996 bombing attack on the British Army barracks in Osnabruck, last night sent shock waves around Westminster and Dublin. Her release comes at a critical time in the peace talks and is certain to be condemned by Unionists.

However, it was welcomed by the Irish government, which said it was in the "wider interest of peace" and "would give heart" to those working towards peace. The Irish Foreign Minister, David Andrews, said in a statement: "I have long been concerned about the compelling humanitarian dimension to this case both for Roisin and her baby, Loinnir."

Mr Andrews said he had repeatedly raised the issue in his contacts with the British government, including the meeting of the Anglo-Irish inter- governmental conference four days ago when he had "a full discussion of its implications" with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam.

"Today's decision not only serves to bring an end to the suffering and uncertainty faced by Roisin McAliskey and her family but is also in the wider interest of peace and reconciliation in these days," he said.

Last night Mrs McAliskey said: "I'm relieved and delighted. We can now concentrate on getting her well again. Roisin is quite calm under the circumstances, but I don't think she really realises what is going on."

Ms McAliskey had been held on extradition charges since being arrested in Coalisland in November 1996. She was three months pregnant at the time, but despite this bail was refused. Weak, ill and suffering from a series of complications, she gave birth last summer to a baby girl weighing 5lb 13oz.

The Home Office statement issued last night said: "[Mr Straw] considers the medical evidence in her case would make the extradition unjust or oppressive". It added: "The Home Secretary has explained his decision to the German government. It does not reflect in any way on the fairness of the German legal system or on the quality of the extradition request."

However, Ms McAliskey's supporters have constantly dismissed the German authorities' contention that the former politics student was involved in the mortar attack.

The German government said last night that it could not comment on the decision until it had been made aware of all the reasons behind the move.