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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 05:15 GMT 06:15 UK


Commons passes anti-terrorism bill

Tony Blair: Promised to carry Agreement forward "vigorously"

The House of Commons has passed proposals intended to catch the Omagh bombers after a 16-hour sitting.


BBC Political Correspondent Nicholas Jones: New powers need to be in place within days
MPs worked through the night to get the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill ready for scrutiny by the Lords on Thursday.

The government wants the Bill to become law by Friday.

The House rose at 6.50am (5.50 GMT) after the Bill gained an unopposed third reading.


Tony Blair: "We have steered the right course"
The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, decided to recall parliament after 28 people died and 220 were injured in the atrocity at Omagh.

The Irish parliament, which was considering similar measures, also passed proposals before it without holding a vote.

Breakthrough on decommissioning

The peace process will be given an extra boost by the arrival of US President Bill Clinton in Northern Ireland on Thursday.

The sessions began on the day Sinn Fein made a breakthrough in the decommissioning process.


[ image: The recall of parliament is a direct reaction to the Omagh bombing]
The recall of parliament is a direct reaction to the Omagh bombing
After it declared violence "a thing of the past", the political wing of the IRA nominated its deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, as its negotiator with the international body set up to decommission arms in Northern Ireland.

The move was welcomed as Sinn Fein's previous refusal to liase with the body had been seized upon by some unionists as lack of commitment to the peace process.

Omagh bombers 'failed' - Blair

In the Commons, Mr Blair had said the people behind the Omagh car bombing had "failed" and urged MPs to support the Bill before them.

The changes in the law will make it easier for courts in both countries to convict people described as active paramilitaries by a senior police officer.

The strongest opposition in the UK came from Labour MPs, some of whom said they were being asked to rush through legislation without proper scrutiny.

A bid to block its second reading, on the grounds that MPs had been given less than 24 hours to scrutinise its contents, was defeated by 374 majority.

Major warns of 'loopholes'


William Hague: Seeking "dismantling of the apparatus of terror"
At the opening of the debate, opposition leader William Hague promised support for the new legislation but voiced concern that internment had been removed from the statue book.


[ image: Hague: Asked for assurance on decommissioning]
Hague: Asked for assurance on decommissioning
Former prime minister John Major, who started the process leading to the Good Friday Agreement, said the proposals before the House were "almost bound to have loopholes".

He said: "It would be a miracle if it did not have loopholes.

"This Bill has been brought forward in some haste for perfectly understandable reasons to respond to the public mood for action following the atrocity at Omagh."

"The objective is laudable and I thoroughly support the objective. But the definition of these groups is very tricky."

Law covers offences outside UK

The prime minister also announced his intention to implement "long-held plans to make it a criminal offence of conspiracy to commit offences outside the UK."


Paddy Ashdown: Omagh bombing "designed to destroy the sovereign will of the Irish people"
He said it was necessary to prevent worldwide terrorism.

But Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, who backed the key part of the proposals before parliament, attacked the decision to tack these measures on to the legislation.


[ image: Ashdown: Welcomed small changes made to legislation]
Ashdown: Welcomed small changes made to legislation
But Home Secretary, Jack Straw, defended his determination to have strong powers against all paramilitaries.

"Not only have we lost 28 lives in the North of Ireland - and I don't make this any competition - but 10 times more lives were lost in outrages in Tanzania and Kenya.

"We would have been blind and deaf not to have recognised the need to act in respect of that as well as in respect of terrorism in the North of Ireland."



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