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13 January 2000 Edition

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Shock and anger at Fusco detention

BY SEAN BRADY

Widespread anger has followed the arrest and attempted extradition to the Six Counties of Angelo Fusco.

Fusco, who was arrested at a Garda checkpoint outside Tralee on Monday, 3 January, was being rushed towards the border on Tuesday to be handed over to members of the crown forces when, at the last moment, the High Court in Dublin temporarily halted the extradition after a successful court application by his lawyers.

It was the latest twist in what has been a 20-year saga for this Belfast republican of Irish-Italian extraction. In May 1980, a unit of the British army's SAS, notorious for their covert military operations in Ireland, led by Captain Herbert Westmacott, launched an attack on a house in Belfast which was held by four IRA Volunteers.

The SAS have a record of taking no prisoners and failure by the four men inside the house to put up resistance would most likely have led to their summary executions. In the ensuing heavy gunfire, the SAS captain was killed. The four IRA members in the house - Angelo Fusco, Joe Doherty, Robert Campbell and Paul Magee - were eventually forced to surrender and subsequently charged with killing the SAS man and possession of weapons, including an M60 general purpose machine gun.

The four men were among a group of eight prisoners who subsequently escaped from Belfast's Crumlin Road Jail in June 1981, two days before they were given life sentences by a Diplock court.

Angelo Fusco fled to the 26 Counties, where he was arrested in 1982. The British government could have sought his extradition then but knew that the Irish courts of that time would uphold a political offence plea. Instead Fusco was tried and convicted for the escape in the juryless Special Court in Green Street under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act (1976). He was due for release from Portlaoise at Christmas 1991 but was instead served with extradition warrants under the 1987 Extradition Act. By this stage, Angelo Fusco had spent longer in prison in the 26 Counties than people convicted of murder. Fusco won his battle against extradition in the High Court. However, the state subsequently appealed the order to the Supreme Court which, in February 1998, overturned the decision not to extradite him. Contrary to some media reports, Fusco did not jump bail, as he was not on bail, nor did he go on the run. No attempt was made to arrest him and he lived openly in Tralee and Dublin.

Sinn Féin strongly condemned Fusco's arrest last week. Ard Chomhairle member and Kerry County Councillor Martin Ferris said the Garda operation was wrong and called on the government to immediately rescind the extradition warrants.

A large crowd of anti-extradition protestors gathered oustide the Four Courts in Dublin on Thursday, 6 January where Fusco contested his extradition. Those in attendance included Ferris and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Fusco's lawyers argue that under Section 53 of the Extradition Act 1965, a warrant must be executed within a month of being issued. Unless reasonable grounds are shown for the delay, the High Court may order the discharge of the person named in the warrant. In the Fusco case, the warrant was not executed within a month of the Supreme Court's ruling.

Following the Supreme Court decision in 1998, Fusco lived openly in Tralee for six weeks before moving to Dublin, where he lived with his brother and worked as a builder, returning to Tralee most weekends. No attempts were made to arrest him. A second basis for the court challenge is that a warrant is spent after six months.

The third basis of Fusco's challenge is that radically changed circumstances since the Supreme Court ruling have fundamentally altered the conditions relating to his case, with the Good Friday Agreement providing for the accelerated release of political prisoners.

The High Court cannot over-rule a decision of the Supreme Court ,but at the High Court on Thursday, 6 January, Fusco's lawyers sought a judicial review so that the courts could deal with the major change in circumstances.

Judge Joseph Finnegan granted leave for a review but to the shock and anger of many in the court, refused to realase Fusco on bail. There were audible gasps at this decision and one man commented ``shame'', after which Judge Finnegan glared at the court and threatened to have it cleared if there were any further outbursts. One of Fusco's daughters broke down in tears in the court at the prospect of him returning to prison and had to be comforted by her father.

Later outside the court, a group of gardaí physically attacked anti-extradition protestors who had staged a sit-down protest against the decision to refuse bail as Fusco was being escorted from the court in an umarked Garda car. A number of people were injured.

Sinn Féin criticised the Garda action as ``unnecessary, heavy-handed and provocative''.

Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Nicky Kehoe said: ``The garda action was over the top, unnecessary, heavy handed and provocative. If they had allowed people to stage a peaceful, protest to show their anger and disappointment then the situation would have passed off without incident.''

Kehoe said the Garda attitude was one of confrontation and did nothing to help calm a situation which had to be defused by Sinn Féin Councillors and officials.

In a further show of support for Angelo Fusco, at its meeting on Monday, 10 January, Tralee Urban District Council unanimously passed an emergency motion calling on the government to rescind the extradition warrant against Angelo Fusco.
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