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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12 Responses to “Newry bomb attack – reaction and analysis”

  1. John Gamblin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Newry bomb attack – reaction and analysis:

  2. Liz McShane

    Jim Mc Allister is , as always, disingenous with his remarks. He knows as well as anyone that people like gerry kelly and his sf colleagues in stormont are also targets of these dissident republican groups (however ironic that may seem) and that these groups do not offer any answers or poltical solution.

    It was terrible, depressing and sad to see this happen and is a stark reminder of what we have hopefully left behind.

  3. Gary Donaghy

    Liz, Although Gerry Kelly might be ‘under threat’, these threats do not originate from any republican group, but in fact, a loyalist proxy group who are controlled by MI5, namely the orange volenteers/R.U.F.F. If any member of PSF were under threat, would they not have followed through as they both live in the same communities. Secondly, they do offer a political solution, that being, the british government desist from all governing of Ireland and let the irish govern themselves, anything less is totally undemocratic. Take into account the fact that the media is almost solely controlled by the british establishment, they use this as a tool for painting pictures that suite their agenda and playing down the situation, but at the end of the day, Republicans have something in their arsenal that the brits will never procure, which is the will to follow through. If all republicans of today were to quit and go against pyhsical force, the next generation will arise and continue the struggle once again. The provisionals tried that, it only brought relative peace lasting around ten years and history is now repeating itself and will continue to do so until the day the core issue is sorted.

  4. Liz McShane

    Gary – I disagree completely with you.

    Dissident republicans post the GFA do NOT offer a solution. The GFA was voted and agreed for by people on the whole island of Ireland (a historic moment)and is an international, binding treaty. We are in a post secterian and violence (N.)/Ireland and it is up to the Republicans/Nationalists to persuade Unionists in the North and indeed the people in the South the reasons and merits of a United Ireland. I commend you read Conall McDevitt’s speech which he gave last Saturday at the Irish Unity conference in London – it is on his blog).

    Republicans of course were targets of Loyalist groups in the 70s & 80s and vice-versa but it is now the dissident republican groups (of which there are too many for comfort) clearly resent the fact that SF has representatives in Stormont and is engaged in politics with their fellow Unionists, and view them as traitors (in their very narrow view of life & politics).

    You hold a very minority and dated view.

  5. Rory

    As long as there is sectarian ‘power-sharing’ in NI, views such as Mr Donaghue’s will persist. If it were treated as a proper part of the UK then it would gradually fade away, I believe. Then we could have normal devolution such as in Scotland, not the ludicrous current system. NI is a divided society and will remain so, thanks to the GFA.

  6. Liz McShane

    Rory – sorry to disagree with you yet again.

    The GFA IS a major milestone for both sides of the community/sectarian divide as it connects & engages them politically. NI/The North of Ireland is, as you know, still a contested piece of land in some people’s views and the GFA as well as providing a new political impetus also gives the people there the ‘space’ and legitimate right to discuss and lobby for this – if that’s their wish – all on the basis of consent and mutual respect.

    Devolved power is what the people of NI want, with Britain acting as arbitrer/facilitator. There IS a strong desire by the people there to govern their own lives and outcomes without being ‘mollycuddled’.

    I will be in Belfast this weekend – so I will be glad to report back!

  7. Rory

    ‘Power-sharing’ is not really devolution is it, especially when they keep having to involve the UK and ROI PMs? If NI had proper devolution now it would probably revert to rule by bigots but if it was treated as part of the UK then I believe devolution could eventually be implemented in a normal way – without sectarianism. As it stands sectarianism is built into the system, a bit like in Bosnia and Lebanon.

  8. Liz McShane

    Rory – Police & Justice has only recently been devolved – as you know, from where NI is coming from (ie a conflict situation)it is a long & slow process and not quite comparable to other parts of The UK for the obvious reasons.

    I agree that sectarianism was built into the system (ie the creation of the NI state) but let’s not dwell on that. Now, we have a unique chance to develop a new political dialogue and along with more Integrated schools, this provides the hope and only show in town – believe you me.

  9. Liz McShane

    Rory – i suggest you check out platform for change which was launched in belfast today. It’s all about moving away from binary nature (green/orange) of NI politics. It might make you review your opinion .

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