The dissident ‘Real IRA’ has been linked to the massive car bomb that exploded outside the courthouse in Newry, County Armagh on Monday night.
The bomb was estimated to have contained about 250lb of explosives and is believed to be the biggest device to have been successfully detonated by any of the breakaway IRA groups for almost a decade.
It destroyed the gates of the heavily fortified courthouse and a security sangar, but caused no injuries. People for miles around said they clearly heard the blast and windows were shaken.
A code-worded warning was issued that the bomb would explode, but the PSNI police said they were still clearing the area when the device exploded. WHile the PSNI criticised the warning as being insufficient, residents were angered that the PSNI allowed vehicles to pass within feet of the bomb shortly before the blast.
The largest ‘dissident’ bomb to detonate in several years prompted a strong reaction by political leaders as well as speculation as to the significance of the blast
SInn Fein pointed to the bomb’s target, a large courthouse, as an attack on the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast. The devolution of the powers is due to take place by April under the terms of the agreement reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP earlier this month at Hillsborough Castle.
It was also noted that Newry, a large border town, has become a popular destination for shoppers from Dublin seeking to take advantage of bargain prices afforded by the border. The explosion in the town centre may have been a symbolic attack on the ‘normalisation’ of partition and the island’s economic divide.
No organisation claimed responsibilty for the attack. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has challenged those behind the bomb to face the public and justify their actions.
“Let them come forward if they have any stomach or guts at all and defend what’s going on,” he said.
He said those involved “have no interest in a united Ireland”.
He also branded those involved as ‘ceasefire soldiers’, his term for militant republicans who were not involved in armed struggle prior to the party’s engagement in the peace process two decades ago.
However, there is mounting concern among political leaders that a younger generation of republicans may be becoming involved in dissident activity.
Elsewhere, a vehicle in the Rosevale Street of north Belfast was the subject of several controlled explosions before it was declared to be harmless. There were also security alerts this week in Lurgan, County Armagh, and Dungannon, County Tyrone.
PSNI Chief Matt Baggott said there was “absolutely no excuse for bringing bombs onto our streets.”
“It was clearly reckless at the best and callous at the worst,” he said. “But added to that, the timing given was severely limited.”
The Belfast Assembly opened its proceedings on Tuesday with cross-party condemnation of the attack and a mortar bomb which failed to detonate outside a PSNI barracks in nearby Keady village.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack as “another cowardly act of violence by those who would prefer to plant bombs than to argue for votes and to participate in the political process.”
Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was determined that the attack “will not undermine the progress we have made.
“The perpetrators are acting against the democratically expressed wishes of all of the people of Ireland. They have nothing to offer our society.
“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.”
DUP leader Peter Robinson said the sole aim of the dissidents 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.”