Leading article: Terror laws that could backfire

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GERRY ADAMS' statement yesterday declaring an "end to violence" in Northern Ireland is good news indeed. It marks not just Sinn Fein's formal and explicit commitment to giving up the gun but it also clearly gets the whole peace process publicly back on track after the tragedy of Omagh. It is now possible - even more so perhaps with President Clinton's visit this weekend - to start talk of decommissiong, to urge David Trimble to respond in kind and, above all, to isolate the extreme elements of republicanism and unionism that wish to continue the battle with the bomb.

In which case even more one can ask why the anti-terrorist legislation being put before Parliament today. The Prime Minister would argue that it makes the process of isolation even more effective. But this hurried bill amounts to an attack on human rights that is likely to inflame the very situation it seeks to control. Ministers say they are attacking only the rights of terrorist suspects, such as they are. It has named four organisations at whom the legislation is to be targeted to avoid the charge of blanket civil rights abuse. And yet two of the organisations in question - the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA-- have only come to prominence very recently. How do we know there will not be others equally deserving of the Home Secretary's attention very soon? Will he just keep adding to the list?

The Government is to give the courts power to seize the assets of terrorists as they already can for drug dealers. But the comparison is fatuous. Drug dealers' often opulent lifestyles are funded from the huge profits earned from illegally selling drugs, so there is a logic in stripping them of their possessions. Terrorists are not driven by money, but by fanaticism.

And what of the consequences of seizing someone's home? Even terrorists have families and it is wrong to punish the innocent for something their father, husband or wife has done - always assuming you get the right suspect. This legislation deserves to be effectively opposed. Let's hope backbenchers and the House of Lords seize the opportunity to enforce a saner view.