Newry bomb attack – reaction and analysis

Monday’s bomb attack, outside a courthouse in Newry, has raised fears that dissident republicans are seeking to derail progress towards completing devolution.

Just weeks after parties in Northern Ireland agreed a deal on the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont, Monday’s car bombing outside a courthouse in Newry has raised fears that dissident republicans are seeking to derail progress towards completing the devolution process.

Writing in The Times, the paper’s Ireland Correspondent, David Sharrock said:

“Among the objectives of those responsible for the latest bombing in Northern Ireland is to damage the province’s political process, balanced as it currently is on a knife-edge.”

It was a “miracle” that no one was harmed in the bomb attack, said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), with Northern Ireland’s political leaders united in condemnation.

Democratic Unionist Party first minister Peter Robinson said:

“The people who carried out this attack are determined to destroy all that has been achieved in recent months. Their sole aim is to return Northern Ireland to its darkest past.

“They will not succeed for I am equally determined that we will continue to move forward and to protect and defend the very same institutions they seek to destroy.”

Robinson’s deputy, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuniess, was equally clear:

“We will continue on the road we have set out upon to deliver a better future. Attacks such as this are futile and serve only to strengthen our resolve.”

A spokesman for Gordon Brown added:

“Northern Ireland’s politicians have been working incredibly hard to deliver a successful conclusion to the peace process. We will not allow a tiny minority to turn the clock back.”

Despite such unity, however, the attack has led some to question whether both the police and the Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward had become complacent over the threat posed by dissident republicans.

Ulster Unionist Party MLA for Newry and Armagh, Danny Kennedy, who also holds the post of deputy leader of his party, raised his concerns over Northern Ireland’s preparedness for such an attack:

“While I am extremely glad that no-one was killed or injured in this attack – as could so easily have been the case – this incident is proof, if further proof was needed, of a deteriorating security situation in Northern Ireland.

“I have, for some time, expressed my concern that there has been a complacent attitude adopted by senior police command and at the top of government, including the Secretary of State, as to the real threat posed by these dissident republicans.

“It is clear that as well as a political response a security response is also required, which should include additional resources in border areas and increased use of intelligence.”

Responding, Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, sought to rebut such criticism:

“Everybody knows we have injected significant resources into bringing those people to justice. We are far from taking the dissident threat complacently.

“We have got many more police officers back on the street, we are continuing to invest in the right capability and technology to tackle the dissident threat.”

Criticism was also made by Jim Allister, leader of the breakaway unionist party, the TUV, of Sinn Fein. In remarks just after the attack, Allister sought to compare the attack to that perpetrated by Sinn Fein minister Gerry Kelly, who in the 1970s was arrested for his part in an IRA bomb attack on the Old Bailey.

He said:

“Tonight’s bomb attack on Newry Courthouse, by whichever IRA flag of convenience organisation, apes the type of attack on the judicial process for which Old Bailey Bomber, Gerry Kelly, set the template.

“Having certainly learned the tactics from IRA/Sinn Fein did they also use explosives supposedly decommissioned and benefit from Provo expertise?

“Ever practised in using violence to promote their political agenda, we can now expect perverted calls by Sinn Fein, supported by the Secretary of State and others who should know better, to speed the devolution of policing and justice in response to such violence.”

The attacks, just weeks after parties across the political spectrum united in a common effort to ensure peace prevailed across Northern Ireland was a cruel reminder that whilst progress has been made, the peace process is one that remains fragile and in need of protection.

With the general election now a matter of months, if not weeks away, the police service will be under intense pressure to ensure dissidents do not see the period as an opportunity to intimidate voters and scare people into staying away from the ballot box.

What is more, the comments by hardliners like Allister serve to heighten worry over the extent to which the less moderate elements of the unionist movement will feel emboldened to step up their attacks on power sharing altogether.

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