Ulster: Mowlam prepares way to scrap internment

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The Independent Online
Powers of internment in Ulster are to be scrapped by the Government. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent says it was a power even the Tories dared not use.

The Emergency Powers Bill - one of three measures on Ulster being brought in during the next session of Parliament - will scrap the power to imprison people without trial. It will also reduce the number of cases going to Diplock courts without juries.

Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told a fringe meeting in Brighton that she would have preferred to go further, but she had to make a start. The removal of internment powers - which could be reintroduced in a bill in 24 hours - could help to overcome criticism that she is not scrapping more anti-terrorist powers, such as exclusion orders.

The move is part of the confidence building measures promised at the election to bolster the ceasefire and encourage the parties to agree to a lasting settlement.

The powers were introduced at the height of the Troubles in August 1971 and last used in 1975, but they backfired disastrously, bringing international disapproval and proved a security failure.

Sir Patrick Mayhew, the former Ulster secretary, resisted pressure to reintroduce internment during upsurges in terrorist violence, fearing they would inflame the situation.

However, the past Tory government insisted on keeping the powers in reserve on the statute book. But Ms Mowlam has decided to go a step further. "We are taking internment off the face of the Bill," Ms Mowlam said. "Internment has not been used since the early Seventies."

She was given a warm standing ovation at the party conference for her efforts to secure peace in the Province. There were several protests at the portrayal of Irish people as rowdy drunks in a recent episode of the television soap, EastEnders, and Ms Mowlam said: "There is anger among the delegates over EastEnders. I have had a lot of telephone calls and I understand that anger because I thought we had got over stereotyping of that nature. EastEnders talks about real life problems and does it very well but obviously got the balance wrong and I regret that."

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