By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN – A hardline unit of the so-called Real IRA — most of them based in the former Provisional IRA heartland of South Armagh — is believed to have been responsible for the Omagh bombing massacre
Its members are being hunted this week by the gardai and RUC on both sides of the border.
And a crackdown on republican dissidents in the Real IRA and the
Continuity IRA is expected to get underway north and south of the border in advance of the visit of President Bill Clinton next month.
Both the Dáil and British House of Commons are expected to be recalled from summer vacation on Wednesday September 2 and the Both will rush through new anti-terrorist laws in the wake of the 28 deaths in Omagh.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
The Dáil will bring in draconian new measures with an amendment to the Offences Against the State Act. Westminster will mirror these measures in Northern Ireland.
Prime Minister Tony Blair is considering membership convictions based on the sworn evidence of a senior police officer – the same as a 1970s Irish law. Telephone tap evidence may be permitted as extra corroboration.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said five new laws will be introduced by the Dáil as part of a package which he described as "extremely draconian"
After the Dáil passes the package on September 2, the Seanad and House of Lords will meet in Dublin and London the following day as President Clinton flies into Belfast.
When both houses in Dublin have passed the legislation it will go to President Mary McAleese for approval. It will become law when she signs it.
The first Offences Against the State Act was introduced in 1939 in response to an IRA bombing campaign in Britain.
The new laws will allow "inferences" to be drawn from a suspect’s failure to answer police questions, which could corroborate a senior officer’s opinion that he is a member of an unlawful organization.
Right to silence
Restrictions will be brought against the right to silence for suspects and detention will be possible for up to four days instead of the current two.
New offenses will be created of leading banned groups, "possessing items" for purposes connected with firearms and explosives offences, withholding information, unlawfully collecting information, and training people to use firearms or explosives.
Farmers or businessmen allowing their land or premises to be used by banned organizations will also face confiscation of their property.
The Irish government decided on the crackdown last week after the Omagh bombing, which, gardaí believe, was assembled north of the border.
The gardaí had scored a number of major successes against the so-called splinter groups in recent months with raids on bomb factories, explosive stores and seizures of massive car bombs.