Tony’s trouble with terror…

THINGS have been a bit back-to-front today. First The Sun accuses the DUP of being ‘traitors’ and Paisley as ‘treacherous’ for not backing Blair’s defeated Terror Bill. Then the SDLP accuses the Brits of cover-up and collusion. Not with loyalists though… with Sinn Fein.The DUP must be laughing that they could add to Blair’s ignominious defeat, which is now prompting questions about his position as Prime Minister. Peter Robinson was in the odd position of voting against the Terror Bill, which would have allowed police to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge.

Perhaps he thought 90 days wasn’t long enough?

In actual fact, Robinson reveals his true objection in the section of the debate on the glorification of terrorism. He points out that quite a few people in Northern Ireland could fall foul of the legislation for commemorating ‘acts of terrorism’ – maybe even half the population!

So once again, everyone from loyalist mural painters to republican website designers can breathe easily – and Peter can dust off the old beret without a care in the world.

It’s also noted that the Irish Government is about to commemorate with military parades the Easter Rising of 1916 – something that may now be considered illegal in Great Britain.

But as things are a bit topsy-turvy at the minute, it’s unsurprising to find the Irish premier remembering another group of Irish fighters from 1916 – the ‘old’ UVF, or 36th Ulster Division as it is also known, which fought at the Somme.

Bertie might end up spending all his time remembering past battles, but he’d better not forget that ‘remembering’ can turn out to be a tricky business.

Back to the highlights from the Terror Bill, and punching a low one during the Westminster debate, Lembit Opik pondered: “It is unclear that the Prime Minister would not fall foul of his own law, given the fact that he has often praised, and expressed admiration for, the contribution of a man who is unquestionably a former terrorist. The courts could have a field day with the Prime Minister, who could end up behind bars as a result of the provisions.”

A theoretical risk I’m sure, unless the PSNI or Met intend to lift Bertie Ahern for paying tribute to the old UVF too, but it raises the prospect of legal ambiguity. Which militant groups can be commemorated? How? Who decides what are ‘good’ freedom fighters and ‘bad’ terrorists? Do I recall that some MPs were dismayed at the recent proscription of a militant Kurdish group? Who says who is acceptable?

But ambiguity and equivocation have been the hallmark of Labour for a long time. This government is comfortable wallowing in fudge, but such strategies tend to result in problems further down the line.

The the absurdity of the Government trying to introduce internment to GB, after it failed so spectacularly in Northern Ireland, is obvious. LibDem spokesman on NI Lembit Opik said, in Wednesday’s debate on the Bill, that Ministers “need to provide themselves with enough time to explain the apparent contradictions writ large—certainly in the eyes of Northern Ireland residents—as the Government increasingly try to suggest that there are two different kinds of terrorism.”

He also told the Government (in not so many words) that it might find it awkward passing the promised OTR legislation if it didn’t back down on the Terror Bill. Let’s hope the LibDems don’t back down whe push comes to shove this time…

Even Hughie Orde got – willingly – dragged into the debate. It looks like the Government lobbied Chief Constables to lobby MPs. “There used to be a distinction in Britain between the state and the ruling party” said a pining Telegraph. Blair and Orde’s work was ineffective on the DUP, but it wouldn’t have been hard to persuade Sylvia Hermon (the single UUP representative), her being married to a former RUC chief constable and all that.

It’s nothing to do with Blair getting the Ulster Unionists ‘onside’ right now (when Blair’s pissing them off on everything related to Northern Ireland) or Hermon sucking up in the hope of getting something on the OTRs legislation (he’ll ignore her), but maybe Sylvia will now have something to hit the DUP with.

They’re traitors! The Sun says so – so it must be true. If anyone knows what being British means, surely it’s The Sun!?

Anyway, the opinion of the current Chief Con on 90-day detention without charge – him serving in Norn Iron an’ all – was the subject of some discussion in the House, until Peter Lilley pointed out that the advice from the Met to MPs said “that the experience in Northern Ireland was totally different and not relevant”.

Another issue might be in relation to the media; could the Terror Bill have any implications for the Press and broadcasters.

One MP raised the point:

The glorification clause could so easily be seen as a restriction. I am sure that that will not be the case in the classroom or the local authority, but I warn the Minister that the BBC and organisations that deal with the national press are all too likely to say, “I think this may be a bit dangerous. Let’s not do it quite like that.” Our experience of people allowing the public to see what an abortion is actually like—which is not glorification—shows what happens if organisations such as the BBC and ITV are allowed to control the expression of powerful feelings and emotions more than is absolutely necessary.

This is a debate that is entirely relevant. Al Qaida is as media savvy as Sinn Fein or Labour, and many journalists, politicians, academis and others have long agonised over what constitutes the ‘glorification of terrorism’ – especially here in Northern Ireland.

There was never really a hard and fast answer from the State throughout our Troubles, and I doubt if there will be one now in the War on Terrorism.

As Mr Gummer pointed out:

There are circumstances in which terrorism is seen in different lights in different places. In democracies, people have a right to expect an obedience to the law that they do not have a right to expect in military dictatorships. In today’s world, we have a right to expect obedience to the law in a way that would not have applied in Britain 100, 200 or 300 years ago—not necessarily mainland Britain, but certainly the island of Ireland.

He’s right in that relationships between nations change, as can definitions of what is seen as right and wrong. The odd thing is that at the moment, the British Government is trying to ‘relax’ its standards on what was morally ‘right’ in Northern Ireland while simultaneously shift to the political ‘right’ on what is legal in the War on Terrorism.

A a “geographical distinction” between terrorists, as Donaldson put it. No wonder the DUP is gloating at the hole Blair is digging himself into.

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