IRA suspect to be handcuffed during birth

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A pregnant IRA suspect being held in prison pending extradition to Germany has been told she must give birth in handcuffs and cannot care for her baby in prison.

Roisin McAliskey, 25, daughter of the former nationalist MP Bernadette McAliskey, is being treated as a category A exceptional-risk prisoner at Holloway jail in London, even though she is more than six-months pregnant and has no record of violence.

Her treatment is causing growing concern among MPs and civil rights groups and is being watched closely by Amnesty International, which has issued an "urgent action bulletin" claiming that the conditions of her detention "may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

Ms McAliskey is wanted for questioning by the German authorities over a mortar-bomb attack on the British Army base at Osnabruck last June, although she says she has never been to Germany. An extradition hearing in London today is expected to rubber stamp the handover to the Germans, but lengthy legal appeals will result in her still being in Holloway when her child is born.

The Home Office said last week that it had received no request from Ms McAliskey to care for her child in prison. However, she has been told that, as a category A prisoner, she may not use the prison's babycare facilities while other inmates are there, ruling out the possibility of looking after her own baby.

Her mother told The Independent that she was visited by a senior prison official last week and told that she would have to "face up to some realities" over the birth of the child.

"He was as humane as he could be, but he said that she would have to make some practical adjustments as a category A prisoner," Mrs McAliskey said. "He said because the Home Office had designated her an exceptional escape risk, she would have to be handcuffed during the birth.

"He said she will be handcuffed to a `birthing partner' which I sincerely hope will be a female rather than male prison officer. She was told that because of her designation, she could not mix with other prisoners and so couldn't use the mother-and-baby unit.

"Having the baby taken away is something she refuses to contemplate. I'm completely horrified by the prospect. She has never been in trouble in her life and all of a sudden they're putting her through this nightmare."

If the baby is taken away, Mrs McAliskey said it would be cared for by its father, Sean McCotter, the brother of Liam McCotter, a convicted IRA terrorist. But she added: "I'm afraid he would have trouble breast-feeding it."

The extradition warrant for Ms McAliskey says she is suspected of attempted murder and illegally handling explosives. She was detained at the request of German anti-terrorist officers, who have been hunting at least five members of the IRA cell which fired three home-made mortars from the back of a van.

One of the mortar bombs exploded near fuel tanks at the base, which is the headquarters of 4 Armoured Brigade, but no one was hurt.

Within days police had discovered the terrorists' hideout and named former Royal Engineer Michael Dickson, 31, who had served in Germany, as a suspect. They said they believed the gang had fled back to Ireland. It is understood that the Germans intend to allege that Ms McAliskey posed as Mr Dickson's wife.

Labour MP Kevin McNamara, the party's former spokesman on Northern Ireland, has visited Ms McAliskey in prison and said that he is concerned about the designation of a six-month pregnant woman, whose health has been questioned by doctors, as a high-risk prisoner. He has tabled questions in the Commons of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, demanding information about her treatment.

"I believe this is quite outrageous," he said. "I thought we had heard the last of women being chained up in hospital. It is her designation that will result in the baby being taken away because, as Category A, she can't mix with the other mothers.

"To suggest she would try to escape is ridiculous. The physical endurance required for a heavily pregnant and ill woman to escape from a prison would be quite extraordinary."

Amnesty's urgent-action bulletin said: "The outcome of this possible decision to separate the mother and baby would amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and would damage permanently the mother-child bonding relationship."