Omagh seeks a return to normal life

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The Independent Online
THE TOWN of Omagh will today take its first faltering steps towards recovery when businesses reopen after its week of death, injury and destruction.

Traders say they believe they must open as many premises as possible to bring some sense of life and movement back to the town's shattered centre. On Saturday, some 40,000 people, twice the town's population, took part in a moving service of reflection. Similar services were held in cities and towns all over Ireland, and in London.

The British and Irish governments, meanwhile, continued the work of putting in place a co-ordinated security response to the 15 August atrocity. Downing Street has confirmed that a recall of Parliament to pass new security measures was an option.

A spokeswoman for No 10 said there were a lot of legal and technical issues that had to be considered over any new security measures. A decision on whether to recall Parliament, or take any other action, would be made this week, she said.

The authorities are working on a number of measures, the most important of which may be changes to the law on proving membership of illegal organisations. In the Irish Republic in the 1970s many republicans were imprisoned after trials in which senior Garda members testified they believed defendants were members of the IRA.

In those days IRA members habitually refused to recognise the court. The combination of the police officer's word and the attitude of defendants was generally enough to satisfy judges and result in convictions. Successful prosecutions dwindled, however, when the IRA came to realise it was helping to jail its own members, and ordered them to recognise the court.

It is believed that some variation of this legislation might be introduced north and south, leading to a swift round-up of those associated with the Real IRA, the group behind the Omagh bomb, which killed 28 people.

Tony Blair, who is to fly to Belfast today after his holiday in France, yesterday took the unusual step of ruling out the assassinations of Real IRA personnel. He said in a newspaper article: "In a world dominated by terror, yes, we could, to use the parlance, `take them out'." But he added: "Ours is a country built on values of democracy. We are winning the argument, which is why more and more people are opting for peace."

The Prime Minister is to say in Belfast: "Good can come out of this evil. It could be the final horrific event which closes this chapter in Irish history for ever."

His Irish counterpart was not, however, so optimistic, Bertie Ahern warned that Omagh would probably not be Northern Ireland's last atrocity. He declared: "I'd love to say to you that I believe this is the last event, as I would have loved to say it on a number of the last events. But I think there is a small element, and they are small, who do not share that feeling."

Two phoneboxes believed to have been used in making the misleading telephone warnings about the Omagh bomb were removed by police from Silverbridge, near Forkhill in south Armagh. They were later flown by helicopter to a police forensic laboratory.