As fears increased of a fresh spiral of violence in Northern Ireland in the wake of the killing, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said last night that a bomb left on a housing estate in Co Armagh had been defused. The anti-personnel device containing Semtex, nuts and bolts was found during searches of the Kilwilkie estate in Lurgan, where a rifle and pistols had been discovered on Wednesday.
The general dismay in Britain and Ireland at the latest casualty of the troubles was tinged with poignancy when it emerged that the victim was a popular young soldier who was shot in the back as he spoke to a female motorist in south Armagh.
Yesterday brought numerous appeals to loyalist paramilitary groups not to become involved in violent retaliation for the killing. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said: "Don't lower yourselves to the standards, the level, of the people who have done this."
The soldier who died was Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, 23, a single man serving with the 3rd Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery. His family live in Peterborough.
His mother, Rita, said yesterday: "He was last home at Christmas for a week but we hardly saw him because he was always out. He was full of life and you would only see him for an hour at a time. He was always out with his friends or at a disco or something. He was a normal young man enjoying himself. I don't want this to be the thing that starts off the troubles again."
The killing marked the return to violent life of the IRA's south Armagh units, which have been unusually quiet recently. It also confirms that the security forces have yet to develop effective counters to the lethal activities of IRA snipers in south Armagh and other border districts.
Between 1992 and 1994 nine members of the security forces - six soldiers and three police officers - died in single-shot sniping incidents. Nine of the last 10 soldiers killed in Northern Ireland prior to the IRA's August 1994 ceasefire died in Co Armagh. Of these, six were killed in single-shot sniping incidents. In addition, three RUC officers died in the county in similar sniping attacks.
Condemnation of the killing was led by John Major and the Taoiseach, John Bruton, who told the Dail in Dublin: "The IRA campaign is anti-Irish, and contrary to the interests of all in Ireland."
Labour's spokeswoman on Northern Ireland, Marjorie Mowlam, said that her party had a host of ideas for reviving the peace process, pledging: "We will not respond to violence of that kind. We will be as tough as this government has been."
David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, which is closely associated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, described the situation as "particularly dangerous." He added: "Northern Ireland is a rather unstable place at the moment but loyalist politicians are doing everything we can to stop a slide back to loyalist violence - we are not giving up."
Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein refused to condemn the killing, saying that he would not "play word games". He declared: "There is an opportunity available on the other side of the British general election with a strengthened British government."Reuse content