By Jack Holland
A Belfast family who fled to America after a loyalist terrorist attack on their home learned last week that their application for political asylum had been rejected by the INS.
The McAllister family were told that "you have not established that the persecution that you fear exists throughout your country." They were also informed that they had failed to establish that there existed a "reasonable possibility of persecution in the future." In the letters from the INS which were sent to each family member it was also stated that the "conditions have changed so much" in Northern Ireland that the McAllister’s did not have "a well-founded fear" of persecution.
"It knocked me back," said Bernadette McAllister, mother of four children whose ages range from 22 to 11. "Nothing has changed that much in Northern Ireland. . . . People still barricade their doors. There’s no peace of mind there yet."
According to Sinn Fein sources, there have been 120 sectarian attacks on Catholic families by loyalist groups so far this year. In one, a nationalist lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, was killed.
In late 1988, two masked loyalist gunmen attacked the McAllister home off the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast. They fired shots with high-velocity weapons through the windows. Mrs. McAllister says it was just good luck that none of her children were killed. The Lower Ormeau is a small Catholic enclave in South Belfast and has experienced some of the worst sectarian violence in the city. It is the scene of continuing conflict between the local Orange Order and Catholic residents.
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The McAllisters fled to Canada shortly after the attack. When Canadian authorities moved to deport them, they then fled to the US in March 1996. Bernadette McAllister applied for political asylum in May 1997 and her husband, Malachy, the following September.
In the fall of 1997, following the IRA cease-fire and the beginning of all-party talks, a group of Irish deportees with republican links were informed that proceedings against them had been suspended. Though the McAllister’s were not specifically informed that their cases too had been frozen, they were led to believe that this was the case.
Malachy McAllister was arrested as the result of the statements of two supergrasses (paramilitary members turned informers) in 1982. He says he was forced to make incriminating statements and as a result was convicted on a conspiracy charge.
Commented Diane George, McAllister’s lawyer on the INS ruling: "If two masked gunmen attempting to assassinate your family is not persecution, I don’t know what is."
An initial hearing has been set for June 29.