Escaped IRA Gunman Savors Liberty in Dublin : Terrorism: The British, and some in the Irish Republic, are furious at Ireland's nearly reflexive refusal to send alleged gunmen to face charges.

From Associated Press

Dermot Finucane, Northern Ireland jailbreaker and IRA gunman wanted by Britain, is enjoying a fine Dublin summer, savoring freedom and drawing welfare checks.

"It's a great victory," said Finucane, 29, who has spent most of his adult life in jail or on the run. "For someone suddenly to say you're free . . . it's also frightening and bewildering and wonderful at the same time."

To the British government, his freedom is infuriating and the reasons are disturbing.

In March, the Irish Supreme Court refused to extradite Finucane to British-ruled Northern Ireland. It said his offense of possessing weapons was politically inspired, because the Irish Republican Army is fighting to unite Ireland.

The five judges added that Finucane probably would be beaten by prison guards if returned to the jail from which he escaped in 1983.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain called the ruling "deeply offensive" and said it encouraged "terrorists to the view that they will probably find a safe haven in the Republic of Ireland."

Disputes over extradition have long clouded relations between the two countries, but things reached a new low after Finucane and an IRA comrade, James Clark, walked free March 13 into the arms of jubilant supporters. Both were convicted in Northern Ireland and sentenced to 18-year prison terms.

Prime Minister Charles Haughey's Fianna Fail party, political heirs of the Irish nationalist heroes who wrested independence from Britain in the 1920s, is opposed to handing Irish people over to the British.

The IRA is dedicated to overthrowing the institutions governing the Irish Republic, as well as British rule in Northern Ireland. Ireland, like Britain, outlaws the organization and keeps its supporters off radio and television.

Extradition remains a problem, however, because of the deeply rooted belief that an Irish nationalist will not get fair treatment from the British.

In the last year, British appeal judges have overturned the convictions of four Irish people jailed for IRA bombings in Britain in 1974 and three who were accused of plotting to assassinate a British government minister.

Six Irishmen serving life sentences for a 1974 bombing in Birmingham that killed 21 people have won widespread support for their campaign to prove that they were unjustly convicted.

It all "reinforces widespread unease about the conduct of court cases in Britain in which Irish people are charged with terrorist offenses," said columnist Mary Holland of the Irish Times, which opposes the IRA.

Among those not sent to Britain is a Patrick Ryan, a Roman Catholic priest. The Irish attorney general refused his extradition on terrorism charges in 1988, declaring that British politicians and newspapers had damned Ryan in such intemperate language that a fair trial was impossible.

Britain and other Irish political parties are putting pressure on Haughey to amend the extradition laws. Critics want it spelled out that such crimes as murder or possessing weapons cannot be deemed political.

"The idea that such barbarism should somehow be construed as a form of political action is nauseating and immoral and cannot continue," said Desmond O'Malley, leader of the Progressive Democrats, the Fianna Fail's junior coalition partner.

Recent bombings in London have increased the pressure on Haughey.

The British say the attacks herald a summer onslaught in mainland Britain as part of the IRA campaign to unite Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland with the overwhelmingly Catholic republic.

Haughey says a 1987 act curtailing the plea of political motivation will "do away with the present difficulties." He tells critics to wait and see how the courts apply the 1987 statute, which incorporates the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

"Our extradition laws are amongst the best in the world," he told Fianna Fail's annual convention soon after Finucane was released.

But delegates endorsed a resolution opposing any extraditions "to Northern Ireland and Britain in present circumstances." The resolution said suspects should be tried instead under the republic's anti-terrorist laws.

Although Finucane's case predates the 1987 act, some critics say his release has undermined it and is good news for five Northern Ireland fugitives fighting extradition under the stricter law.

Cases still take a year or more to grind through appeals, and scope remains in the 1987 act for fighting extradition on political grounds.

Since 1972, Britain has made 112 applications for extradition of security offenders, Northern Ireland officials say, with seven granted, 41 refused, and five still being fought. The rest lapsed.

To Northern Ireland's Protestant majority, Ireland looks like a haven for their terrorist foes. The British feel let down, because improved extradition procedures were supposed to be the reward for giving Ireland a say in the running of Northern Ireland under the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Ireland's Progressive Democrats began a campaign May 14 to toughen the extradition law, and found the opposition Fine Gael and Labor parties generally supportive.

"It is a huge scandal that that man (Finucane) goes free," party President Michael McDowell, a lawyer, said in an interview in the library of his home.

"I know how I would feel if I were a unionist in Northern Ireland watching someone like Finucane, a convicted terrorist, kicking his heels safe and free."

At the downtown headquarters of Sinn Fein, the IRA's legal political front, Finucane retorted: "How does a nationalist feel when a British soldier walks free after murdering one of us?"

Finucane is one of eight children of a working-class family in Belfast, and says his early memories are of his home being burned down by Protestants.

Growing up in a Catholic ghetto, he learned to hate the British and the local, mainly Protestant, security forces.

"As kids we played the IRA and British troops," Finucane said. "You learned that if we didn't protect ourselves, no one would."

At 17, he was arrested and, he says, beaten by British army interrogators. Soon afterward, he crossed the line from hurling gasoline bombs in street riots to carrying an IRA gun.

He married in 1980 and has a 9-year-old daughter with whom he never has spent more than two weeks at a time.

In 1981, police captured Finucane and two other IRA men in a car chase after an attack on an army patrol in Belfast's Anderstontown district. Their weapons were in the car.

Finucane was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

He joined a mass breakout from Northern Ireland's Maze prison in 1983 and fled south to the republic. Irish security forces picked him up during a series of raids on suspected safe houses in 1987.

His brother, Patrick, a lawyer who defended IRA suspects, was shot to death and Protestant militants claimed responsibility. Another brother, Gerard, is in an Irish jail for IRA activity.

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