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Appeal weighed in blocked deportation

LOS ANGELES -- Immigration officials are considering whether to appeal a judge's ruling blocking deportation of an Irish bartender convicted of aiding in the killings of two British soldiers in 1988.

The government has 30 days to appeal Immigration Judge Rose Peters's ruling Friday that Sean O'Cealleagh should not be returned to Northern Ireland because his crime was ''purely political."

In her ruling, Peters also said British prosecutors did not conclusively prove O'Cealleagh was present when the soldiers were beaten and that British courts were inconsistent in the way they treated suspects.

The government had argued that O'Cealleagh, 35, who was granted permanent residency in the United States in 2001, should never have been allowed into the country because of his conviction.

''We believe the judge's decision is in error," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

O'Cealleagh was arrested Feb. 25 at Los Angeles International Airport when he returned from a visit to Northern Ireland. O'Cealleagh spells his name in traditional Gaelic, but is identified as Sean Kelly in British legal documents.

O'Cealleagh was one of three men given life sentences in 1990 for their roles in the deaths of the two soldiers, who were beaten and shot after they were discovered in civilian clothes at a funeral for a slain Irish Republican Army member in Northern Ireland.

O'Cealleagh, convicted of aiding and abetting in the murders, spent 8 years in prison and was freed in 1998 under the Good Friday peace accord. He immigrated to the United States in 1999.

O'Cealleagh has been working as a bartender in Seal Beach and is known for serenading patrons with Celtic tunes. He has an American wife and a 3-year-old son.

A call seeking comment yesterday from O'Cealleagh's attorney was not answered.

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