Irish farms used as arms dumps will be confiscated

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THE IRISH authorities have told dissident republicans they will begin seizing farms, some worth millions of pounds, which are found to house paramilitary arms dumps.

The Justice Minister, John O'Donoghue, confirmed that emergency land and property confiscation powers brought in after the Omagh bombing will be invoked. His announcement came amid other confidence-building statements by Irish ministers linked to the Mitchell review of the Good Friday Agreement.

The move follows discoveries in Donegal, Wexford, Wicklow and Meath of guns and mortars and an underground firing range, linked to the Real IRA, 20 miles from Dublin. Police raided the converted wine-cellar, using stun grenades to subdue 10 men caught inside; in all, 28 were held.

Mr O'Donoghue, speaking at Malahide, Co Dublin, at an international conference on identifying, tracing and seizing assets of criminals, said anyone found holding paramilitary weapons "will face more than a term of imprisonment" and that authorities will now confiscate assets.

People who thought they could "subjugate the will of the vast majority of the Irish people" could think again.

"Anyone who thinks he can have an arms dump on his land and get away with just a term of imprisonment is seriously wrong. We will go after his assets as well."

Bunkers on remote farms and disused farm buildings have long been the principal hiding place for republi- can paramilitaries' weaponry.

But the confiscation policy may run into a legal quagmire if proceedings invoking seizures run beyond December 2000. Last year, in response to civil liberties concerns, Bertie Ahern, the Prime Minister, assured the Dail that the measures would lapse at the end of 2000.

The 94.4 per cent referendum vote in the republic approving the Good Friday Agreement surprised many British Conservative observers, who had overstated grassroots Irish support for armed republicanism.

The land confiscation powers were among the main features of amended anti-terrorist laws enshrined in the Offences against the State Act, which was passed by the Dail in emergency session in September last year.