Waves of political and official condemnation have followed the killing of a member of the PSNI in a targeted ‘dissident’ bomb attack in County Tyrone on Saturday.
In the first fatality of the conflict in over two years, Ronan Kerr, a recent recruit to the PSNI, died when an anti-personnel device exploded under his vehicle in Killyclogher, on the outskirts of Omagh. It is understood the device, a miniature high-explosive limpet bomb, was detonated by a mercury tilt-switch.
While no organisation has yet claimed responsibility, it is believed that one of the two main breakaway IRA groups must have carried out the attack.
Since Sinn Fein took the decision to back the force in 2007, the PSNI (formerly the RUC) has remained the main focus of armed actions among republican ‘dissidents’.
Many of the attacks by armed republican groups in recent years have targeted those from the nationalist community who signed up to join the force. In January last year, another Catholic, Peader Heffron was seriously injured in a similar attack in Randalstown, County Antrim.
However, their campaign has not stopped the process of normalisation in the North. The attack took place with only weeks to go before a second Assembly election on May 5 and with a historic royal visit due to take place in Dublin at the end of May.
A major operation by the PSNI and British military was underway this weekend to “isolate and expose” those who DUP leader Peter Robinson described as “neanderthals”.
Robinson called for people to pass information to the PSNI on those involved.
“They think they have done something that furthers their cause but if they had spoken to the people that I have spoken to, they would know that this community is solidly standing against them,” he said.
“We must give whatever support we can to the police. We are the eyes and ears of the PSNI.”
While no organisation has spoken out to justify the killing, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams joined the condemnation.
Sinn Fein President Adams said it was a “futile attempt to destroy the progress that has been made, which has the overwhelming support of the people of this island.”
In his press conference on Sunday, Mr Adams said the political response must go beyond condemnation.
“It is imperative that everyone make clear their opposition to the murder of Constable Kerr. Every citizen must defend the process.”
The Six-County Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness visited the Kerr family home on Saturday night. He commended the dead man “for a very courageous decision, along with many others, to join the PSNI at a time of great change and I hope that young people will continue to do that”.
He said the dissidents were “betraying” the people of Ireland, and described Mr Kerr as a “good Irishman and a good Irish policeman”.