MARGARET THATCHER'S antiterrorist policies have received a double body blow. First, relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland hit a new low this past week when Irish authorities allowed an IRA suspect to walk free and disappear. The suspect, Patrick Ryan, had been wanted for questioning by British police.
Then Britain was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for detaining suspected terrorists up to seven days without charge. This means that London may be required to amend antiterrorism laws to bring them into line with the Strasbourg court ruling.
Prime Minister Thatcher has criticized both developments. She claims they will hinder attempts to bring to justice members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army who commit acts of terrorism.
The case of Patrick Ryan, a former Roman Catholic priest, is the latest unsuccessful attempt by Britain to extradite a suspected terrorist from the Irish republic. While Ireland's attorney general was studying the extradition request, Mr. Ryan, who was recovering in a Dublin clinic from a hunger strike, discharged himself and took refuge with a religious order.
Mrs. Thatcher reacted angrily to the news. Ryan faces four charges in Britain of conspiracy to murder and to cause explosions and is thought by the authorities to have been involved in arms sales between Libya and the IRA. His case is seen by Thatcher as a test of Irish sincerity in responding to requests for the extradition of IRA suspects.
The Irish authorities were considered unlikely to accede to the request anyway. Official sources in Dublin say the British warrant for Ryan was too vaguely drawn and did not meet requirements laid down in the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. The Irish government was under pressure from its supporters not to let the extradition proceed.
The Ryan case has shown current arrangements on extradition to be too loose to satisfy Thatcher's determination that IRA suspects in Europe be brought to justice. So far this year, most suspects sought by Britain have evaded extradition.
But the problem Britain faces extends beyond its dealings with Dublin. It is Europe-wide. In the Ryan case, Belgium had earlier refused a British extradition request, deciding instead to fly Ryan to Dublin.
The Strasbourg court condemnation of detention for seven days without charge was in response to a complaint by four Irishmen who had been held in this manner. Britain now must choose between accepting the ruling or dissenting from it. In any case, the four complainants will receive compensation from the British government.