IRA bomb signals no peace before general election

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The Independent Online
The IRA attempt to explode a large bomb under Hammersmith bridge in west London is being seen by informed sources in Belfast as final confirmation that terrorist have given up on the Irish peace process this side of the next British general election.

All the signs are that the republican analysis is that the Major government, with its slender majority in the Commons, has neither the inclination nor the strength to make any bold moves on Ireland.

The bomb which partially exploded at Hammersmith bridge on Wednesday night contained more than 30lbs of high explosive, making it the biggest high explosive bomb planted in Britain, Scotland Yard said.

It underlined the republican determination to pursue the post-ceasefire campaign with vigour, rather than plant small devices as reminders of their presence.

No one in the republican camp views the election of a new Labour government as a panacea, since they regard previous Labour administrations as having had a Unionist tinge. But the sense is that the present situation is without the potential for movement.

Republicans are also hopeful that the next Dublin general election will see the removal from government of the present Taoiseach, John Bruton, whom they regard as hostile to republicanism. Most would wish to see the return to power of the Fianna Fail party, which they consider to have made a valuable contribution to the peace process.

The logic of this is that no new ceasefire is to be expected to allow Sinn Fein entry into the inter-party talks which are due to begin on 10 June .

The Hammersmith bomb is seen as confirming that republicans are intent on stepping up their violence, particularly in Britain.

An indication of republican thinking was given by Martin McGuinness, a key figure in Sinn Fein, when he said this week: "I don't believe that John Major is the British prime minister who will move decisively to resolve this conflict. I think that in reality we're actually sitting here hoping that the quicker there's a British general election the better, so that we can then move on and deal with whoever else comes into power."

In London, anti-terrorist police issued an urgent call for vigilance after the Hammersmith device went off on a towpath under the bridge.

The bomb was clearly an attempt at an IRA "spectacular" by staging an attack on a high-profile target which would cause major damage and widespread traffic disruption.

It came on the 80th anniversary of the Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland in Dublin on 24 April 1916, a key date in the Irish republican calendar.

Scotland Yard said there was no doubt that the bomb, made up of two devices thought to contain Semtex, was designed to kill, cause serious injury and major structural damage. Although there were two small explosions, the bomb did not detonate. It is thought the detonator may have gone off but failed to set off the main device.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said yesterday that the devices were each contained in a briefcase-sized box. They were being examined by forensic experts. "The devices are believed to have contained upwards of 30lbs of high explosive. This is probably the biggest amount of high explosive ever to be placed on the mainland," she said.

Larger devices have been exploded on the mainland, such as those in Docklands in east London in February and at Bishopsgate in the City in 1993, but they were constructed from fertiliser-based explosives. Semtex is the most powerful explosive in the IRA armoury.

The spokeswoman said: "These devices would have caused a very large explosion and there's no doubt that they were made to kill, cause injury and major structural damage to Hammersmith bridge as well as enormous disruption to London and its community."

In March 1939, an attempt was made to destroy the bridge using a bomb planted in a suitcase.