Leading article: Let the state deal with the bombers

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VERY FEW tears would be shed if the perpetrators of the Omagh bomb ceased to exist. The unity of feeling about the latest outrage is unprecedented inside the 32 counties and out, and the number of terrorists (for there is no longer any residual question of their being freedom fighters) involved very small. Their continued presence is not required.

But the peace process in Ireland has been a story about the forces of due process and legality taking on terrorism, anarchy and chaos - and largely winning. To suggest that anything other than the state should have a role in deciding the fate of these men and women would be to walk on to the same territory as the people of violence responsible for Saturday's carnage. And that would be a small victory for them and what they stand for.

Inevitably, there will be calls for internment without trial to be reinstated as a governmental tool. But this too would be wrong, and should be resisted by the Irish government - it has already been repealed as a possibility by the British - because it infringes human rights, and is counterproductive in that it produces martyrs. Extreme policies produce extremists where there previously were none, and the aim is here is moderation.

Whatever the Omagh bombers themselves think, their activities are not political: they are sociopathic. Sadly, however, it may be that in the short term, even in a "peaceful" Ireland we must get used to the activities of a tiny fringe that remains hooked on killing. We must ensure that the security and intelligence forces are initially given maximum support to capture the zealots, then encourage them to abandon terror and enter the democratic process. Let's hope that time and distance from the Good Friday agreement will see their numbers dwindle.

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