There's no such
thing as a 'good' terrorist, Mr Blair
By Iain Duncan Smith and David Trimble
for a moment, two scenes. The first is a busy Saturday afternoon in
a market town in the United Kingdom, packed with shoppers. Shortly
after 3pm, with no apparent warning, a bomb explodes, leaving 29
people murdered and hundreds more injured. The second takes place in
America, when two hijacked planes, again with no warning, fly into
the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, killing thousands and
injuring many more.
The comparison does not end there. In both cases, the killed and
injured were going about their ordinary daily business. Among the
dead were nationals from more than one country.
Of course, one difference between these two atrocities - one that
took place in Omagh on August 15, 1998 and the other in New York on
September 11 - is scale. Of course, many more people were killed in
the World Trade Centre, and at the Pentagon, than at Omagh. The
other difference is that one took place in our own country, the
other abroad. Yet there the differences end. We should not forget,
however, that some 3,600 people have been killed as a result of
terrorism associated with Northern Ireland.
These two acts illustrate a point that we have both made
repeatedly since September 11. There is not, and never can be, any
moral distinction made between terrorists or terrorism. What
happened in America is the same as that which has been carried out
in the United Kingdom, and in particular in Northern Ireland.
Osama bin Laden and his followers are no different from those who
planned and carried out Omagh, Warrenpoint, Hyde Park, Enniskillen
or countless other atrocities during some 30 years of terrorism in
Ulster. It follows that there should be no question of recognising,
or creating in law, different categories of terrorist organisation.
Yet this is precisely what this Government has done. It did so
first within the United Kingdom when, immediately after Omagh,
Parliament was recalled to pass emergency anti-terrorist
legislation. Measures were introduced that apply to illegal
terrorist groups that are not, in the Government's view,
"maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire", but not to those
illegal groups that are. The Government repeated this distinction in
the Terrorism Act last year. It has established the concept of
"good" and "bad" terrorists. We utterly reject this.
Now, in the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Bill, currently
before Parliament, the Government has taken this further. The Bill
creates a distinction between international and domestic terrorists
and groups, and introduces different penalties for them.
Specifically, the Bill states that: "International terrorism does
not include terrorism concerned only with the affairs of a part of
the United Kingdom." There could hardly be a more obvious device to
exclude terrorist groups in Northern Ireland. What would be the
response if an Arab or Basque terrorist working on behalf of an
Irish republican group were involved in bombing an English city?
This cannot be justified. The links between international
terrorists and Irish republicans are well established. In August,
three senior republicans were apprehended in Colombia, suspected of
collaborating with the narco-terrorist group Farc. Much of the IRA's
arsenal results from its connections with the Arab world,
specifically Libya. Prominent members of the Basque separatist
movement, Eta, have been regular visitors to republican conferences
over the years.
In many respects, the IRA has been the prototype for global
terrorists and the organisation from which they have drawn
encouragement. It was the IRA that perfected the murder of innocent
civilians for political gain, in "spectaculars" such as Bloody
Friday, La Mon and Enniskillen. It was an IRA commander, Brendan
"Bic" McFarlane - famous for machine-gunning civilians trying to
escape the bar he had bombed - who wanted to bring down Concorde
with a Sam-7.
Like other terrorist organisations the world over, republicans
and so-called loyalists in Northern Ireland thrive on organised
crime. The bulk of their finances comes from the millions they make
through racketeering, smuggling petrol and cigarettes, and by
sanctioning the sale of drugs, from which they cream off huge
There is no difference between the illicit trade in drugs that
helps to finance al-Qa'eda and that which sustains the activities of
paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. The Government has rightly
responded to the threat to our security posed by bin Laden. We
support the move to introduce new powers - as we would any effective
anti-terrorist measures. Yet these measures should apply equally to
all those suspected of involvement in terrorism. That should include
organisations in the United Kingdom.
Terrorist organisations within the United Kingdom remain both
active and highly capable. Even with the welcome first act of
decommissioning by the Provisional IRA, Ireland remains awash with
arms and explosives. In recent days, the arrests of individuals
suspected of being involved with the Real IRA have reminded us of
their clear intent to commit terrorist atrocities.
Senior republicans, shaken by the response to the events of
September 11, are trying desperately to justify the campaign waged
by the IRA over 30 years. Gerry Adams, speaking in New York
recently, claimed that "those who support us know the difference
between what's been happening in Ireland and what happened in this
city on September 11".
Most people will treat those words with justified contempt. Our
fear, however, is that the Government risks giving a spurious
legitimacy to this distinction. By creating different classes of
terrorist, the danger is that all terrorists will be encouraged to
believe that, if only they persist, sooner or later they will
succeed. That is why, at this late stage, we urge the Government to
think again and end the anomaly that it has created.