Screw turns on renegade IRA

As the dead are borne high to their graves, Dublin announces `Draconian' new laws
Click to follow
The Independent Online
AS IRELAND yesterday buried 16 of the 28 people who died in last Saturday's bombing in Omagh, the Dublin government tightened the screw on dissident republican organisations with a package of "Draconian" measures.

Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, said the measures - the toughest ever imposed by the Irish government - were a "stringent and hard" response aimed at mopping up the Real IRA. Five new proposed offences, including directing terrorist activity, will be brought before the Dail in an emergency session in a fortnight.

Security sources hope a statement from the organisation, which declared a suspension of its violence, would amount to a full ceasefire. But it was made clear that the statement would not deflect the security forces from a determined push against the group.

In the wake of the bombing, suspected members of the organisation are being treated as pariahs, with its alleged leader, Michael McKevitt and his partner, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, fleeing their Dundalk home.

None the less, there are distinct signs the Irish government and Sinn Fein, and possibly the British government, have had contact with them. Such contacts may have helped bring about the suspension announcement.

Mr Ahern said the legislation was "extremely Draconian, but I am not prepared to take a chance with anything else". He said new offences would be created of directing an unlawful organisation, possessing items for purposes connected with firearms and explosives offences, withholding information, unlawfully collecting information and training people to use firearms or explosives.

New restrictions are to be placed on the right to silence, allowing inferences to be drawn from a suspect's failure to answer police questions. Detention will be allowed for up to 96 hours rather than 48 hours.

Last night Mr Ahern briefed David Trimble, First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, about the new measures.

British ministers are meanwhile putting together their own package of possible measures, which will include provisions to secure easier convictions on charges of membership of illegal organisations.

Extra security presence has already been put in place on both sides of the border, while anti-terrorist officers from Scotland Yard are helping the investigation into the bombing. Five men arrested earlier this week are still being held.

Among the mourners at yesterday's funeral of the three young boys who died in the bombing were the Sinn Fein leaders, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness; Mr Trimble and the Irish President, Mary McAleese. Such a cross-section of leaders from Ireland's different communities would have been unthinkable only a short time ago. In scenes of anguish mirrored at funerals for 13 other victims, mourners crowded lanes around the hilltop church of St Mary's in the tiny seaside town of Buncrana, Co Donegal, to pray for James Barker and Sean McLaughlin, both aged 12, and Oran Doherty, aged eight.

The mourners heard the Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, the Most Rev Seamus Hegarty, appeal directly to the bombers to repent and "resolve finally to give up their immoral trade in destruction and death, not temporarily or conditionally but permanently, and to seek forgiveness for the atrocity which they have done".

Sinn Fein's chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, disclosed yesterday that the party had been in contact with the Real IRA, through intermediaries, to press its demand that the group renounces violence for good. He said: "We did make it known to the group that there was a need to discuss this issue to try to recover the situation from the disastrous consequences of Saturday.

"There is ongoing work which requires a degree of sensitivity and very, very discreet management."