Bail and sentencing policy in terror cases needs tightened

Morning View
Morning View

In a statement yesterday, the Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers called for increased resources for police at the time of the dissident threat.

Mr Chambers was right to issue that call, but an even more pressing matter needs to be resolved.

Bail and sentencing policy in severe terrorist cases needs to be radically tightened, with a presumption against bail in cases involving serious terrorist charges and much longer jail terms for those convicted of serious offences.

The casual way that bail has been treated, despite flagrant breaches by some defendants, is alarming.

Some sentences of convicted dissidents have been so light as to be a further source of alarm. But there seems to be little indication of the situation changing.

It is chilling to think that people who have been let out of prison much earlier than they would have been freed if they had been found guilty of an equivalent offence during the Troubles might now be plotting attacks which they ought not to be free to engage in.

We know that there are some determined terrorists who are carefully plotting murder now, even if we cannot know how many of them have previously served prison time.

The dissident republicans seem to have the expertise to succeed in their aim, including a number of serious bomb and gun plots in recent months.

The authorities have a duty to protect life. It would be a grievous dereliction of that duty if the security response was only tightened in the aftermath of a future atrocity.

The gun attack in north Belfast in January in which a policeman was injured, and was fortunate to survive, and the failed school bombing in the Ardoyne at the weekend, have been stark reminders of the dangers.

There will be a consensus of condemnation if an attack succeeds and someone gets killed.

Such condemnation is welcome but it is of little help to anyone. We need political consensus now on toughening up security.