Gerry Adams warned Tony Blair last night that there could be a return to violence unless he restored the Northern Ireland Assembly after dissident republicans were accused of bombing an army barracks in Londonderry.
The bomb attack yesterday raised fears of an all-out offensive by dissident republicans. The dawn explosion damaged a perimeter fence and unmanned guardhouse at Ebrington Barracks, in the Waterside area. There were no injuries. The RUC said a device containing about 5lb of homemade explosives exploded one foot inside the base's perimeter wall.
The Sinn Fein president, who will address his party in Dublin tomorrow at its annual conference, warned that the Province was "on the cusp of repeating the past as opposed to carving out a future".
Mr Adams said the Good Friday Agreement could still be rescued if the Prime Minister restored the suspended assembly. "If Mr Blair directs the restoration of the institutions and starts to create some confidence or regenerate or restore confidence, it can be saved. But he added: "The longer there is a delay, the more difficult it will be."
The Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, condemned the bombing as an "attack on peace" and "anti-republican". He said: "Such actions... will not overturn the democratic will of the Irish people."
The Sinn Fein chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, said: "Quite clearly this isn't unrelated to the political crisis. Political vacuum provides the only space in which this small micro-group can operate."
The Progressive Unionist, David Ervine, called the bombers "buffoons" and said they had to be marginalised. "All the dissidents need to do is get lucky once and there would be an element of loyalism who would react to it," he said.
The attack was the second on a security installation in Northern Ireland in less than two months. There was no warning of the explosion. A sniffer dog was brought in to help search the sealed off area.
The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, told the BBC: "There have been a number of incidents recently which have been attributed to dissident republicans. This may be another one. And there is reason to believe that dissident republicans are trying to launch a sustained campaign."