MS Risk Blog

The Londonderry Bombing

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On Saturday 19 January 2019, a bomb exploded in a car in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, after police were given a 10-minute warning to evacuate the area.  At 7.23pm, the vehicle with the bomb inside had been left outside the courthouse on Bishop Street, and three minutes later, a warning was called into the Samaritans in the West Midlands that was passed onto the West Midlands police who notified the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The bomb, which went off at 8.09pm, was described as a “crude device”, and the PSNI said the attack outside the courthouse was “unbelievably reckless”. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said, “Clearly, it was a very significant attempt to kill people here in this community.” However, the bomb was detonated just after the area was cleared, so there were no injuries or casualties. The police have since released CCTV footage of the bomb explosion.

The PSNI have released a statement that the bomb attack may have been carried out by the New IRA, a dissident republican group. The New IRA was formed in 2012 to unify under one leadership a number of dissident republican organisations. The group believed to be the largest dissident republican organisation and thought to be responsible for a number of attacks post-2012, including the murders of prison officers David Black and Adrian Ismay. ACC Hamilton said, “The new IRA, like most dissident republican groups in Northern Ireland, are small, largely unrepresentative and determined to drive people back to somewhere they do not want to be.” However, ACC Hamilton added that the device “has not been as effective as they would have wanted for it to be”. PSNI Supt Gordon McCalmont told BBC Radio that the police were trying to get the city back to normal and show the attack had “little or no long-term impact”.

On Sunday evening, the PSNI arrested two men, aged 34 and 42 in the city, and two men in their 20s earlier in that day. On Monday, a 50-year-old man was arrested and remains in police custody. The previous four men have been subsequently released. Three further security alerts in Londonderry were triggered when two vehicles were hijacked by masked men and a delivery van was abandoned. Police said residents have been allowed to return to their homes following the alerts, which were confirmed as hoaxes. An alert in north Belfast on Monday night was also confirmed as a hoax. Police said that while the alerts were hoaxes “we cannot underestimate the impact these incidents have had on our community”. PSNI Supt Gordon McCalmont remarked that “The occupants of the hijacked vehicles did not believe when they set out for work this morning that they would be threatened by masked men”. Supt McCalmont said that “These groupings obviously want us to respond. We will be very balanced. This threat has always been in this city”, adding that “My sense is that this is not because of Brexit.”  Previously, in 2015, there had been a spate of bomb attacks in Londonderry that were blamed on dissident republican groups.

In a speech in the House of Commons on Monday, the Prime Minister Theresa May said, “This house stands together with the people of Northern Ireland in ensuring that we never go back to the violence and terror of the past.” However, Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said Saturday’s attack was an attempt to drag Northern Ireland back into violence and conflict. Although, since 2017, there remains a political vacuum in Northern Ireland due to the row between Sinn Féin and the DUP that collapsed the executive power-sharing in Stormont. Brexit and the Irish border issue have added fuel to the fire that could destabilise the fragile political stability and peace established by the Good Friday Agreement.