Old enmity greets Belfast's new dawn

Real IRA detonates car bomb just minutes after transfer of policing powers
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The Independent Online

A half-hour period early yesterday brought both another political milestone in Northern Ireland and an almost instantaneous violent response in the form of a dissident republican car bomb.

A device went off not far from Belfast at Palace Barracks in Holywood, Co Down, where a security installation houses both the Army and the Northern Ireland headquarters of MI5, the security service.

No one was injured in the attack but dozens of residents were shaken by the blast which took place as homes were being evacuated just after midnight.

The device went off just minutes after responsibility for policing and justice powers was transferred from London to the Belfast Assembly, thus completing the process of devolution from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The timing of the explosion was clearly no coincidence and is regarded as a violent act of defiance by republican splinter groups who oppose the entire peace process. Responsibility was claimed by the Real IRA.

Tracey Jordan, a mother-of-four, was at home with her children, one a three-month-old baby, when the bomb went off nearby. She said: "Paint went flying everywhere, we were trying to scramble through it to get out. There were broken vases and everything. I don't know when I will get into the house again or what damage has been done."

Politicians from all parties condemned the attack and said they were determined not to be deflected from running Northern Ireland through the power-sharing Assembly.

The transfer of policing and justice powers is not expected to have any instant impact on efforts to combat the dissident republican campaign, since the operational responsibilities of the police and MI5 will remain unchanged.

Agreement on the move was reached earlier this year after a long and difficult negotiation centring on the two largest Belfast parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

Gordon Brown said when agreement was reached that the politics of progress had replaced the politics of division, but the bombing is viewed as a reminder that small but dangerous republican groupings are still active.

The threat posed by them is officially classified as severe.

The bomb was driven to the base by a north Belfast taxi driver whose cab was hijacked. It is thought he and his family were threatened with violence if he did not deliver the device.

David Ford, the new Justice Minister was confirmed in office in an Assembly vote yesterday afternoon. He is a former social worker who heads the middle-of-the-road Alliance party.

Condemnation of the attack was led by Peter Robinson, the DUP leader and First Minister, who said: "I have no doubt that this attack was timed to coincide with the transfer of policing and justice powers. The transfer of powers will not be derailed by those who would return us the darkest days of our past."

Also condemning the attack, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said the peace process remained "rock solid".