The Prevention of Terrorism Acts and exclusion orders: 40 years since their introduction

This week it will be forty years since the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Temporary Provisions) 1974, passed quickly in the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974. The POTA was a broad piece of counter-terrorism legislation and many of the controversial elements of contemporary legislation concerning counter-terrorism and national security can be traced back to this 1974 Act. Many have written about the dramatic powers of the POTA, including the extensive powers of arrest and detention, but this post will focus on exclusion orders, which were granted under the POTA and the first piece of border control legislation to inhibit travel between the UK and Ireland. Although abolished in 1999, the national/border security framework created by the POTA and its exclusion orders have informed how terrorism is “countered” at the UK border in the 21st century. Part of this post is based on a paper on monitoring potential ‘terrorists’ coming from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1970s and 1980s currently under review, which is why there are references and comparisons to this in the post. If you would like to read a draft, please get in touch.

border-control

The major terrorist threat to the UK during the 1970s was from the Provisional IRA and other Irish nationalist groups. Although most of the attacks during the 1970s occurred in Northern Ireland, Irish terrorism was always seen by the UK authorities as an internal or domestic terrorist issue. This was in contrast to the terrorist threat from the Middle East and North Africa, which was seen as an external threat, with an internal Foreign and Commonwealth Office report from 1980 stating ‘The main, continuing external threat of terrorist activity in Great Britain still comes from the Palestinian groups’.[i] As Kathryn Fisher has written, ‘International terrorism was positioned as non-domestic and non-British, an enemy from outside’.[ii] From a border security perspective, the irony of the Irish nationalist terrorist threat was that Irish citizens were free to enter and reside in Britain without restriction,[iii] while the much less immediate threat of Middle Eastern and North African terrorists entering Britain was heavily regulated.

In 1973, the Provisional IRA shifted its focus from merely targeting the British in Northern Ireland to a wider bombing campaign on the British mainland. This began with a bombing at the Old Bailey at March 1973 and continued throughout 1974 until November that year, when two Birmingham pubs were bombed, killing 21 people, and the UK government, blaming the Provisional IRA (the group has never claimed responsibility for it), hastily formed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act gave the police and the security service wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention to counter terrorism extending from Northern Ireland. Of particular importance are the exclusion orders that could be delivered to potential terrorists under the Act to prevent people under suspicion of terrorist activity from entering Great Britain (as opposed to the United Kingdom, which included Northern Ireland). Part II of the Act gave the Secretary of State the power to exclude persons from entering mainland Britain if they were suspected of preparing terrorist acts ‘designed to influence public opinion or Government policy with respect to affairs in Northern Ireland.’[iv]However UK citizens who had been living for the last 20 years or born and ordinarily resident in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) could not be excluded. This meant that people could not travel to mainland Britain from Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland if they were suspected of taking part in Irish nationalist terrorist activities and were excluded under the new legislation.

The 1974 Act did not prevent people from entering Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain if suspected of being involved in acts of terrorism. The reason that Northern Ireland was not included in the legislation was because it was believed by the UK government that ‘terrorist attacks in Britain inevitably tend to be committed by people who have travelled here from Ireland, while those that take place in Northern Ireland tend to be committed by those already living there, or by those who have come over the border from the South’.[v] If a person who was not a UK citizen, they could be prevented from entering the whole of the United Kingdom (including Northern Ireland), but this was only for people suspected of being involved in terrorist activities designed to impact upon the politics of Northern Ireland, which became a problem for the authorities in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they tried to formulate ways in which the border control system could prevent potential Middle Eastern and North African terrorists from entering the country.

Exclusion orders were, as Josephine Doody has argued, symbolic that ‘an explosion or death from terrorist activities in GB was intolerable or unacceptable to the House of Commons but such an explosion or death in NI was of little concern.’[vi] But Doody also points out that exclusion orders were ‘viewed in NI as a second best option’ because the powers of arrest and detention were far greater in Northern Ireland under Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973.[vii] Between 1974 and 1999 (when the legislation allowing exclusion orders was repealed), 448 people had received such orders.[viii]

In 1976, the Prevention of Terrorism Act was revised and strengthened, with exclusion orders now able to be used to prevent people travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but this was a rarely used loophole by Irish terrorists. But the 1976 Act also, for the first time, introduced (under Section 13) checkpoints at ports of entry between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even though both regions belonged to the United Kingdom and travel between them by UK citizens was completely allowed. Because the monitoring of travellers in between Northern Ireland and Great Britain was implemented under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and not the Immigration Act 1971, immigration officers did not work at these port entry points, with the control points actually staffed by the police (often Special Branch officers). The police, in some cases, used landing and embarkation cards similar to those used under the Immigration Act for all non-UK passport holders and for many who travelled between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the line blurred between border control official and police officer. In his review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Lord Shackleton wrote, ‘a passenger may thus be in doubt whether he is speaking to a police officer, an immigration officer or some other official’ and that ‘[h]is attempts to find out may not always meet with success’.[ix]

——————————————————————

[i] ‘Near East/North African Terrorism in Great Britain: Possibilities for Preventative Action [final version]’, n.d., p. 1, FCO 60/685, National Archives, London.

[ii] Kathryn Fisher, ‘From 20th Century Troubles to 21st Century International Terrorism: Identity, Securitization, and British Counterterrorism from 1968 to 2011’, unpublished PhD thesis, London School of Economics, 2012, p. 19.

[iii] There has not been much research into the policing of the UK-Irish Republic border and counter-terrorist efforts against Irish nationalists, although Henry Patterson’s recent book uncovers a lot of new material regarding this. See: Henry Patterson, Ireland’s Violent Frontier: The Border and Anglo-Irish Relations During the Troubles (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[iv] Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, Part II, s. (3) 1.

[v] Cited in, Josephine Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities: Exploring the Use of Exclusion Orders in Northern Ireland’, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 4/1 (January 2012) p. 82.

[vi] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 83

[vii] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 83

[viii] Doody, ‘Creating Suspect Communities’, p. 80

[ix] Lord Shackleton, Review of the Operation of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Acts 1974 and 1976 (London: HMSO, 1978) p. 30.

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One comment

  1. I grew up in Guildford which experienced two pub bombings in 1974. The Guildford Four are well documented including their release from prison in 1989 with the guilty verdicts overturned. The white paper on the report was released and can be read at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/final-report-of-the-inquiry-into-the-convictions-arising-from-bomb-attacks-in-guildford-and-woolwich

    There is also a commemoration piece available at – https://soundcloud.com/bbc-surrey/the-guildford-pub-bombings

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