Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Thursday, August 20, 1998 Published at 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK

How the UK tackles terrorism

Some paramilitaries remain active in Northern Ireland

When Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced a major security package following the Omagh bomb atrocity he called his measures "draconian".

But most of the laws unveiled on Wednesday already exist in the UK - and in some cases they are even harsher.

The crucial new step is the move by Ireland to make it easier to secure convictions for membership of an outlawed organisation.

[ image: Ahern bringing in ''draconian'' laws]
Ahern bringing in ''draconian'' laws
The law will allow inferences to be drawn if a suspect fails to answer police questions which could corroborate a senior officer's opinion that they are a member of a proscribed group.

Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has said she wants to toughen anti-terrorism laws by boosting prospects of convictions of paramilitaries.

But the UK Government already has laws covering most other security measures announced by Mr Ahern.

Ireland is limiting the right to silence so that a court can draw inferences when an accused relies on facts in their defence that they omitted to give police.

The right to silence was similarly restricted in Northern Ireland in 1988.

[ image: The two governments hope to defeat the paramilitaries' show of force]
The two governments hope to defeat the paramilitaries' show of force
Ireland is also doubling the maximum detention period for suspects without charge from 48 to 96 hours.

In the UK, paramilitary suspects can be held for a maximum of seven days on authority from the secretary of state.

New offences in Ireland include directing outlawed organisations, ''possessing items'' connected with terrorist offences, withholding information about terrorist offences, unlawfully collecting information for terrorist purposes and training people to use firearms and explosives.

All these are covered by the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act.

The former was introduced in 1974 following the Birmingham pub bombings, which left 21 dead and more than 180 injured.

[ image: The IRA is on ceasefire, but some former members are still involved in violence]
The IRA is on ceasefire, but some former members are still involved in violence
Membership of the IRA and INLA are proscribed under the acts, both of which are temporary and have to be renewed every year by parliament.

However, the government has pledged to replace them with a single, permanent UK-wide piece of legislation.

Since 1972, there have been 313 incidents in Britain of paramilitary violence related to Northern Ireland resulting in 121 deaths and injuries to 1,900 people.

In the past 20 years, there have been more than 80 international terrorist incidents in the UK.

The new act will reflect the changing face of terrorism and the fact the UK is now a target of international activists as well as republican paramilitaries.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said in a 1997 speech: "The ceasefire in Northern Ireland and the possibility of achieving lasting peace there does not mean that we no longer need special legislation to investigate, to disrupt and counter terrorist.

"We cannot and will not drop our guard. We must remain vigilant to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers needed to provide an effective response."

A Home Office spokeswoman said on Thursday: ''Most of the Irish measures are already in our armoury. This brings the legislation in both jurisdictions closer together.''

The Irish parliament is already being called back early to approve the new laws. But it is understood the Unionists have made it clear to Mr Ahern that his measures will only be considered effective if they succeed in putting the dissidents behind bars.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |