Irish warning on McAliskey detention

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The Irish government yesterday underlined its stern warning to Britain over the detention conditions of Roisin McAliskey amid growing health concerns for the prisoner who is in category A security while facing extradition proceedings.

Irish ministers are alarmed that Ms McAliskey, who is more than six months pregnant, has not been given assurances that her baby will not be taken from her at birth and are fearful for her physical and psychological health.

The British Ambassador, Veronica Sutherland, was called in on Wednesday to hear protests from the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, over the conditions in which Ms McAliskey, 25, is being held in Holloway Prison, north London.

Privately, Dublin sources were yesterday putting the political risk more bluntly, warning that, given health concerns for Ms McAliskey's baby, British mishandling of the case risked creating a new Republican martyr.

The daughter of the former Westminster MP Bernadette McAliskey is in jail pending a German extradition application over a mortar attack on a British army base in Osnabruck last June.

Mr Spring told Mrs Sutherland difficulties over the prisoner's treatment "had the potential to cause damage to the shared objectives of both governments in the peace process".

Detention under category A status has restricted Ms McAliskey's family visits and contact with other prisoners. Dublin maintains her pregnancy means she is unlikely to be a threat in terms of escaping.

Dublin sources yesterday described her strip-searching after visits as "appalling treatment" for a pregnant woman, and wants her detention conditions improved "as soon as possible".

Senior sources fear the case could provide damaging propaganda against Britain if her treatment does not improve, and are mindful of the upsurge of public support for Republicanism in the aftermath of the IRA hunger strikes in the early 1980s. For this reason Dublin wants assurances about her future treatment to be public.

In London, the German Ambassador, Jurgen Oesterhelt, is reported to have toldLabour MPs that his government's position on granting bail to Ms McAliskey had been misunderstood by the Crown Prosecution service.

After meeting the German Ambassador to Ireland, the deputy leader of the main Fianna Fail opposition party, Mary O'Rourke, said she was advised the Germans were not insisting on bail. Mrs O'Rourke last week went to Holloway for a 35-minute visit with the prisoner and complained to the governor about the 24-hour lighting of her cell and half-hourly inspections throughout the night.

The British Prison service last week denied that Ms McAliskey would be shackled to a prison officer during birth.