Real IRA takes blame as Derry blast injures two policemen

The starkly different faces of Irish republicanism – old and new, political and violent – were on show in Northern Ireland and Britain yesterday in the very different forms of talking and bombing.

As Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister, spoke at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, his home city of Derry was cleaning up after the latest dissident bomb attack.

While the Sinn Fein leader was absent, two policemen were recovering from injuries received in the aftermath of the bombing, in which a particularly large device was used.

They are not believed to have been seriously hurt, but they did suffer neck and ear injuries when they were blown off their feet. Police said the device, containing more than 200lb of explosives, was probably larger than that used in a similar attack in the city in August.

The bomb caused substantial damage to premises including a hotel and a bank branch. It exploded after midnight on Monday night, about an hour after a warning was given. The security forces were able to evacuate dozens of homes before it detonated.

The Real IRA, which has been active in the city for many months, claimed responsibility. In February it shot dead a local man who was said to be one of its members

Speaking in Birmingham, Mr McGuinness declared: "These conflict junkies are attempting to drive a city living very much to the future back to the past. People in this city are horrified that there are still these Neanderthals within our society."

In a statement issued jointly with the loyalist First Minister Peter Robinson, he added: "We are as determined as ever to build a stable and peaceful society, and we will not allow the achievements of recent years to be destroyed by a small minority who have nothing to offer but a return to the past."

Initial local theories had it that the bomb could have been placed specifically to embarrass Sinn Fein, or alternatively to damage the hotel, where members of the Northern Ireland Policing Board were due to hold a meeting later this week.

Another theory was that the attack might have been at least partly aimed at a local branch of the Ulster Bank. Last year the Real IRA claimed responsibility for sending bullets to relatives of police officers who worked in the branch.

Several weeks ago the organisation denounced the banking industry, saying bankers were "criminals" and adding ominously: "The role of bankers and the institutions they serve in financing Britain's colonial and capitalist system has not gone unnoticed."

This was regarded, however, as an implicit threat to financial headquarters, possibly in Britain, rather than small branches in Northern Ireland.

A police spokesman said they were following various lines of inquiry concerning the hotel and the bank but were also considering whether the bombers were originally aiming at a police target.

Chief Superintendent Stephen Martin said that up to 200 people were in the hotel when the warning was received. He added: "We had tourists from America and Japan and other countries moved out of a hotel in this city in the middle of the night because of a bomb.

"Last week we had President Clinton here, talking to people about inward investment, the prospect of 3,000 jobs. Last night we had the response from these so-called dissident groups – their views are to destroy the jobs in Derry."

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