MP renews call for football ID cards

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The Government and Opposition yesterday united in condemning the events in Dublin, with John Major describing the behaviour of the "thuggish minority" as "a disgrace and a very great embarrassment".

He promised the Irish government "that we will do everything we can to help identify the people concerned and ensure they face due punishment".

But Home Office sources played down any suggestion that the discarded soccer identity card scheme would be revived, or that new legislation was being considered, while Downing Street made clear that the Prime Minister believed Britain should still stage next year's European Championships.

Mr Major was joined at Prime Minister's questions in condemning the violence by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, who said "these people are not proper football fans. They are criminals and thugs and should be treated as such".

The Irish Embassy in London said it had received more than 100 calls from public apologising for Wednesday night's events and Mr Major wrote to John Bruton, the Irish premier saying the behaviour of the English fans had been "inexcusable" as he offered all assistance in catching and punishing those responsible.

However, MPs on both sides of the Commons questioned why the offer of help in identifying potential trouble-makers made by the British police had not been accepted in Dublin.

The riot brought a call from David Evans, a member of the backbench 1922 committee, for an identity card for every football fan - an idea that came close to enactment when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister but was dropped in the face of doubts about its effectiveness and worries about its cost. The former chairman of Luton Town Football Club, said on BBC Radio 4: "I would identify these thugs, hooligans, beasts, call them what you like, lock them up and throw the keys away."

But ID cards were opposed by Chris Smith, Labour's national heritage spokesman, who said the prospect they raised of queues of opposing fans moving slowly through turnstiles was "a recipe for disaster".

Home Office sources were no keener on the idea, although some government sources said the Green Paper on a national identity card might have something to say about their application to football.

However, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has said that the proposed card will be voluntary, not compulsory.

Tom Pendry, Labour's sports spokesman, accused Mr Howard of complacency in rejecting a request to tighten up the law on obscene chanting at football matches, but said next year's championship should go ahead.