Homes evacuated in terror bomb alert

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The Independent Online

Several families had to evacuate their homes today after the discovery of what police fear could be another huge terrorist bomb near the Irish border.

As Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson prepared to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown to discuss funding to enable the transfer of policing and justice powers from London to Belfast, a stretch of road was sealed off in Co Fermanagh.

Security forces moved in after warnings that a device had been left by republican dissidents near the village of Rosslea on the Lisnaskea Road.

Last week a 600lb bomb was defused in south Armagh amid claims that the threat posed by republicans opposed to the peace process was as high as at any time since the Omagh bomb which killed 29 people in Omagh, Co Tyrone, in August 1998.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who accompanied Mr Robinson at today's London talks, has already warned that unless the new justice department is set up before the end of the year, the transfer of powers could be delayed until after the next general election.

Today's meeting is a new attempt to reach agreement on the level of funding, which could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.

Mr Robinson said any agreement would have to have the approval of Conservative leader David Cameron.

He said: "There is a possibility of an alternative government, and it would be irresponsible of us to simply tie up a deal with the present occupant of Downing Street, to find that in a year's time everything was to change."

But SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said the lack of political agreement between the First and Deputy First Minister was hindering the transfer of powers.

He said: "The SDLP back any efforts to get proper funding for policing and justice so that when powers are transferred, sufficient resources will be in place to do a good job.

"However, the central issue about the devolution of policing and justice is not about money, but the lack of political agreement between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. This reflects the dysfunctional character of the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) and the current Executive.

"Both the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and SF (Sinn Fein) seem incapable of reaching any political agreement on any serious political issue and we are left with people who hold office but are simply not governing on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland."

Police said the security operation came after officers were made aware of various claims made in recent weeks and months about explosive devices left or abandoned in the area.

They had been made in telephone calls to local businesses and media organisations.

A statement said: "While every effort has been made to resolve these claims, which come from a small number of criminals who appear intent on disrupting the lives of businesses and residents of the area, it has become necessary to conduct a search.

"We are committed to keeping disruption to an absolute minimum. The culpability for any that does take place lies squarely with those who made the claims.

"They must not be allowed to ruin the lives of local residents and businesses.

"The claims made in Fermanagh are in addition to a number of incidents in the county over the past 18 months in which explosive devices targeting members of the security forces have been planted.

"The discovery and disposal of a massive bomb in South Armagh in recent days underlines our need for a careful and controlled response to these claims."