McAliskey aims to take on McGuinness

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Indy Politics
The Northern Ireland election campaign flared into life yesterday with the announcement that Roisin McAliskey is planning to stand for parliament in the pivotal Mid-Ulster seat.

Miss McAliskey, who is eight months' pregnant, is being held on remand in Holloway prison in north London. She is contesting a German request for her extradition to face questioning about an IRA bombing attack in Osnabruck.

The move has stirred up a number of ancestral ghosts. In 1969, Miss McAliskey's mother, Bernadette, caused a sensation when she won the same seat as a nationalist unity candidate and became the youngest-ever MP at Westminster.

In 1981, while highly active as a champion of republican prisoners' rights during the traumatic hunger strikes period, Mrs McAliskey was shot and almost killed by loyalist gunmen at her home. In the same year the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands was elected MP for the neighbouring Fermanagh & South Tyrone constituency.

The name of McAliskey has thus been associated with some of the most notable events of the Troubles. In this instance the intervention has caused a stir, thrown the result in Mid-Ulster into uncertainty, and made inevitable a tense period of stand-offs and mounting pressures.

The seat is currently held by the Democratic Unionist MP, the Rev William McCrea, but since it has a nationalist majority the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Fein are campaigning hard to replace him. The SDLP candidate, Denis Haughey, is one of party leader John Hume's closest aides and one of the party's best backroom intellectuals.

But his candidacy has been eclipsed by the fact that Sinn Fein has moved one of its best-known leaders, Martin McGuinness, into the constituency. The high-profile republican has received the lion's share of publicity and public attention.

Announcing her daughter's candidacy, Mrs McAliskey asked other nationalist candidates "to stand aside on this one occasion".

She added: "In the face of the continued refusal of the British court to acknowledge her right to bail and the British administration's racist belligerence, insult and inhumanity, we feel this may be her only opportunity to secure her release before the birth of her child."

Mr Haughey was quick to respond that the SDLP would not be pulling out of the contest as requested. Sinn Fein, by contrast, said carefully that "if this is a realistic proposition the McAliskey family, Sinn Fein and the SDLP should discuss this issue out fully".

Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP will be approaching the question sensitively, since a sizeable human rights campaign has been built around the issue of the conditions under which Ms McAliskey, who is standing under no party banner, has been held in Holloway.