WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday ratified a treaty that would make it easier for Britain to extradite from the United States members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army wanted for violent crimes.
The treaty, the center of an ideological battle for a year, makes an exception to a centuries-old ban on allowing any other country to extradite from the United States those accused of politically motivated crimes. The Irish Republican Army seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite the province with the Irish Republic.
The extradition pact was ratified on an 87-10 vote. A two-thirds Senate vote is required for ratification.
Aid Package Also Approved
In addition, the Senate approved on a voice vote a two-year, $40-million package of economic aid for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that is designed to bolster a British-Irish accord that gives the Dublin government a voice in predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland. The funds, although separate from the extradition treaty, were linked to it politically.
President Reagan and the British government said that the modifications of the existing extradition treaty between the two nations were needed to stem the terrorism of the IRA. While the treaty does not define what constitutes terrorism, it narrows the legal grounds under which a suspect wanted in Britain could claim that the charge was politically motivated.
The so-called "political exception" to extradition could not be invoked for such offenses as murder, kidnaping, voluntary manslaughter or the use of explosive devices.
Reagan had appealed for the treaty's approval as a sign of support for both British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and his campaign against terrorism. Thatcher allowed U.S. bombers based in Britain to strike Libya on April 15 in retaliation for a terrorist bombing in West Berlin blamed on Moammar Kadafi's government.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Peter Roussel said Reagan was pleased by the Senate action and called Thatcher to share the news. "We welcome this bipartisan call to combat political violence," Roussel said.
Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) complained that the treaty "singles out Irish people and subjects them to much narrower rules than affect any other nationality."
Treaty opponents, including Irish-American and civil libertarian groups, also expressed concern about the precedent the treaty would set. They noted that negotiations for similar treaties are under way with West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and Israel.
Conservatives fear that such treaties eventually could lead to demands by non-democratic countries such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan that the United States return political dissidents who have sought refuge here.
Charges Abuse of Exception
But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), who put together the compromise version of the treaty that won over much of the political opposition, complained that the political exception has been abused.
"To even permit courts in the United States to consider political motives as justifying murder or other crimes showed a lack of respect for the democratic process," Lugar said.
"Where the individual can bring about political change through the ballot box, the bomb and the bullet have no place," Lugar added during the ratification debate, which began Wednesday.
However, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) countered, "As much as I want to stamp out terrorism, I also want to make sure that we do not stamp out some basic legal rights as well."
Lugar and Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) forged a compromise on the initial treaty that essentially allowed both sides to declare victory.
Included in the compromise is a provision that permits a judge to deny extradition if he determines that the accused could not get a fair trial because of "race, religion, nationality or political opinions."
Additional language in the accompanying report, not part of the treaty itself, would allow U.S. judges handling extradition cases to consider whether the British court system is fair. That language was added to answer criticism of the non-jury, single-judge courts, called Diplock courts, that are used to try IRA defendants.
Won't End Violence
The compromise made the treaty more acceptable to Irish-American opponents. But Father Sean McManus, the Catholic priest who heads the U.S.-based Irish National Caucus, said it will not accomplish its chief purpose of ending IRA violence.
"When England gets out of Ireland, it can have any extradition treaty it wants," McManus said in an interview. "As long as there's British rule in Ireland, there will be people who will attempt through armed struggle to drive them out." He noted, however, that his organization does not condone violence.