By Ray O’Hanlon
Against a backdrop of heightening tension and loyalist violence in his native Belfast, Malachy McAllister took the stand Monday and testified for six hours in defense of his family’s plea for political asylum in the U.S.
The hearing of the McAllister case, at the federal immigration court in Newark, N.J., is expected to conclude today with a decision to follow in October.
The McAllisters — Malachy, Bernadette and their four children — are attempting to avoid deportation to Northern Ireland. The family fled Belfast after loyalist gunmen attacked their home in the Lower Ormeau area.
Malachy McAllister, a former member of the Irish National Liberation Army, gave evidence of his life growing up in the Markets area of Belfast, his later involvement with the INLA, arrest and imprisonment, release and subsequent flight with his family to Canada and later the U.S.
The court also heard testimony from Malachy McAllister’s sons, Gary and Jamie as well as his wife, Bernadette.
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Another witness who testified for the McAllisters in the last week included Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Center, named after the slain Belfast attorney.
O’Connor spoke of the recent escalation of loyalist attacks on Catholic homes in Belfast. He stated his view that Malachy McAllister was a likely target for loyalist assassination and that his family would be targeted too if they got in the way of an attack on Malachy.
Other witnesses who testified in support of the McAllisters included Jane Winter of British Irish Rights Watch, Julia Hall of Human Rights Watch and attorney Padraigín Drinin, who, in the wake of attorney Rosemary Nelson’s 1999 murder, represents the residents of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown and the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, both flashpoints in recent years due to Orange Order parades and loyalist rallies.