Trimble cancels his trip after pipe-bomb killing

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The Independent Online
DAVID TRIMBLE, Northern Ireland's first minister-designate, yesterday called off a trip to the Middle East after a Protestant woman married to a Catholic died in a sectarian attack.

There was widespread condemnation of the pipe-bomb blast which killed Mrs Elizabeth O'Neill, a 59-year-old mother of two adult sons, in Portadown, Co Armagh. She had tried to pick up the device thrown into her home after the window was smashed by a brick. Her husband, Joseph, who was also in the room, was not injured.

The RUC blamed loyalists for the attack and three other overnight ones on Catholic homes, part of a year-long assault by pipe- and petrol- bomb mostly on Catholic families in predominantly Protestant areas. The attacks rarely caused serious injury but nationalist political representatives warned the sheer volume meant life would eventually be lost.

The O'Neills lived in the mainly loyalist Corcrain estate, where they were described as respected and well-liked. But, as in many other cases, local standing provided no protection against anti-Catholic fanatics.

Mr Trimble, MP for the area, called the attack " an appalling act" and said it was related to the proximity talks held on Friday and yesterday in an attempt to settle the Drumcree marching dispute which has heightened tensions in Portadown.

He said: "Those trying to exploit the Drumcree issue politically don't want an agreement and this attack must have been made with the deliberate aim of preventing an agreement this weekend. It must not be allowed to succeed."

But straightforward sectarianism was blamed by David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist party. He said: "It was those who simply hate Taigs (Catholics). I don't think there's a concept here about the constitution of Northern Ireland - this is simply about bitterness and hatred."

In one of the other overnight attacks two women and a baby escaped injury when a bomb exploded in their garden, near the O'Neill home.

An RUC spokesman said: "Police are satisfied both incidents are the work of loyalists." In an attack at Hilltown in Co Down a device shattered the living room window of a house. A man and several sleeping children escaped without injury. In east Belfast a pipe bomb thrown at a house in Clandeboye Gardens failed to explode.

Most loyalist paramilitary organisations have been quiet over the year but smaller groups said to contain militant elements intent on sectarian warfare have emerged. One killed RUC Constable Frank O'Reilly with a bomb last September.

Police said five men were arrested in Portadown last night in connection with the attack on the O'Neills.