Internment not favoured, O'Donoghue declares

 

The Minister for Justice and the Northern Secretary have promised to take all possible measures, including changes in the law, to bring to justice those responsible for the Omagh bomb.

After a 3 1/2-hour meeting at Stormont, both Mr O'Donoghue and Dr Mowlam expressed their horror at the bombing. They were now considering specific measures to make it easier to convict people for membership of proscribed organisations.

"The people who did this just aren't human, they are animals," said Dr Mowlam. "I can assure you that we are going to leave no stone unturned. We are determined to do everything possible to ensure these people are taken off the streets."

The meeting, which lasted two hours longer than expected, heard a long and detailed security briefing from the RUC Chief Constable, Mr Ronnie Flanagan, and the Garda Commissioner, Mr Pat Byrne. The ministers and their police chiefs then discussed security measures in three categories:

Enhancing practical security co-operation in Border areas.

Making it easier to get convictions for membership of proscribed organisations.

Other measures, many with complicated legal dimensions that would go to the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister for more detailed consideration.

Some of these proposed measures had complicated legal aspects to them, said Dr Mowlam. They would have to consult their respective prime ministers and cabinet colleagues before finalising them.

Mr O'Donoghue expressed his "horror and revulsion at this heinous appalling crime". The Government had firmly resolved that the people responsible for the bombing would be brought to justice.

Taking those responsible off the streets "is a task for each government on each side of the Border. No Government on its own can unilaterally hope to succeed. We must fight this together, and together we are going to fight this."

Warning that there were no simple and easy solutions, he said they had nevertheless agreed to look seriously at a number of options.

On the key issue of making it easier to get convictions for membership of proscribed organisations, Mr O'Donoghue declined to be specific.

"It was felt at the moment that sometimes it is not very easy to prove that individuals belong to proscribed organisations," he said, "and we looked at a number of ways to make that easier, both in the North and in the South.

"It is the position pursuant to the Offences Against the State Act in the Republic of Ireland that the opinion of a chief superintendent of the Garda Siochana is accepted as evidence by the courts. In latter times it is the position that this evidence would require a certain degree of corroboration. We are certainly looking at the whole question of corroboration."

He would not elaborate.

"Co-operation between the Garda Siochana and the RUC has never been better," said Mr O'Donoghue. However, the heads of the respective police forces were going to examine the operational details of that co-operation to see if it could be improved further.

The best way to retaliate against the bombers, said Dr Mowlam, was to find ways to make the peace process work better.

Neither Mr O'Donoghue nor Dr Mowlam would rule out the internment option, but both suggested they did not favour it.

"No option which would result in the people being taken off the streets has been ruled out", said Mr O'Donoghue. "But I am veering in the direction of an amendment to the Offences Against the State Act to make convictions for membership of proscribed organisations easier."

Dr Mowlam also said that internment had not been ruled out or ruled in. She added: "Internment was used in the past and was shown to have serious difficulties. I'm not a supporter of internment but I say to you that it was an option that I would clearly consider if I thought it was a good idea, but I don't."

Instead, they were looking at changes in the law "so we can deal directly with the very small numbers involved rather than take sledgehammer powers to crack a nut, which has been the difficulty with internment in the past."