THE COURAGEOUS efforts of staff to evacuate a Londonderry hotel before a dissident republican fire bomb burst into flames saved the lives of many guests, police have said.
A masked man abandoned a holdall containing the incendiary device at the Everglades Hotel late on Thursday night. A short time later it ignited into a fireball as an Army bomb disposal officer was trying to make it safe. No one was injured in the attack but the reception area of the hotel, which is in the Prehen area of Derry, was extensively damaged.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Superintendent Stephen Cargin said if the hotel had not been properly evacuated by the time the blaze took hold lives would have been lost.
“The hotel did a fabulous job evacuating people,” he said. “I have no doubt they saved the lives of many of their residents.”
One potential reason the hotel was targeted by republican extremists opposed to the peace process was because it has previously hosted PSNI recruitment events.
Hotel owner Sir William Hastings said: “It is extremely sad that the professional staff and management of the Everglades Hotel have had to deal with such a traumatic experience.”
He praised them for “acting so quickly and professionally to avert a major atrocity”.
“This has caused real damage to the prosperity of the city from both a commercial and tourism point of view,” Sir William added.
“The main loser here is the city of Derry/Londonderry, a city which does not deserve this after the excellent work in attracting more and more visitors in recent years.
“This despicable action has the potential to damage the tourism industry in Derry/Londonderry but with my experience of the people in the city and their resolve I am confident this will not deflect them from their efforts to help continue to take the city forward.”
Staff were working hard to ensure the hotel was business for business this morning.
In another show of defiance against the extremists, Sunday’s Walled City Marathon, which is due to start from the hotel, is set to go ahead as planned. City native and Stormont’s Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness tweeted his condemnation.
“Derry is a place looking to the future & will not be held back by those living in the past,” he wrote. “Their attack on the Everglades must be condemned.”
Derry’s mayor councillor Martin Reilly said the attack was against the whole city.
“This was a very cowardly attack that will not deter us from promoting our city as a tourist destination,” he said.
Northern Ireland’s new chief constable in-waiting has vowed to bring to justice those behind the fire bomb.
George Hamilton, who was this week appointed to succeed Matt Baggott in the high profile role, said the perpetrators had no regard for Northern Ireland or its citizens.
“I think the fact it has happened indicates some of the challenges that face us,” he said.
“These are people who are opposed to peace, they are people who are trying to use violence,” he said.