CIVIL and human rights groups are dismayed at the Government's renewal of its existing emergency powers in Northern Ireland.
They argue that even the recent drug-related killings, widely thought to be the work of IRA members, do not constitute a proper state of emergency. Renewal of the “excessive” powers for another two years is against the interests of the peace process, they maintain.
Some are also sceptical about the degree of independence of Home Secretary Michael Howard's inquiry into the future of anti-terrorist legislation, announced last week.
Belfast-based civil liberties group the Committee on the Administration of Justice said the renewal of emergency legislation was “alarming” and “counter-productive” because “in the wake of the cease-fires it is clear there is no emergency in Northern Ireland”.
The legislation also went against an international law recommendation that such powers must be “strictly proportionate to the exigencies of the situation”, said the committee.
Renewal of such powers “shows unfortunate disregard for the UK's binding commitments in international law and calls into question the Government's commitment to the protection of human rights”.
Similar views were strongly voiced by Liberty, both the Irish and Scottish Councils for Civil Liberties, and British Irish Rights Watch (BIRW).
The Belfast-based Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR), the independent statutory body which advises the Secretary of State, said the Government's failure to consult it was “extremely disturbing”.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a Law Lord, and Belfast High Court judge Mr Justice Brian Kerr will head the inquiry into future anti-terrorist law for peacetime.