Gardai in the Irish Republic foiled the bombing mission, which appears to be the work of renegade republicans, as the device was being taken from the Co Donegal town of Letterkenny towards Londonderry. A van that was stopped at a garda checkpoint was found to contain bomb- making components.
Two arrests were made during the operation, following which the RUC searched a number of homes in the Creggan district of Londonderry. A major bomb attack such as was evidently planned would have provided the worst possible backdrop for the attempt to make political progress.
As a prelude to the main talks in Belfast, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble went into brief early-morning talks at Downing Street yesterday. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Mo Mowlam, with whom Mr Trimble does not get on, was not present.
Mr Blair will this morning meet the Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in London before the two men fly to Belfast. The two governments are said to have formulated new proposals aimed at breaking the decommissioning deadlock.
The Government made it clear yesterday that a breakthrough in the talks would mean that Dr Mowlam could put forward a devolution order in the House as soon as 1 July, the day after the deadline set by Mr Blair.
Mr Trimble asserted yesterday that he would not sit in government with Sinn Fein unless the IRA makes a credible start to giving up its guns.
Describing decommissioning as "the important fundamental obligation", he added: "For them to come to the point of explicitly acknowledging what the document they endorsed last year clearly says isn't really, from our point of view, significant progress."
Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, gave a hint of possible flexibility on the republican side.
"From our point of view, we - and maybe people think this is a fault - only like to ask the question when we have a fair idea of what the answer is going to be. The danger is that asking the question and getting a negative could actually be detrimental to the type of work which we are involved in."
t The Protestant civil-rights "Long March" from Londonderry to the parades flashpoint of Drumcree faced two nationalist protests yesterday.
Fears have been expressed that the march will heighten tensions across Northern Ireland. Pleas from Protestant churchmen and John Hume's SDLP for the parade to be called off fell on deaf ears.Reuse content