Ulster politicians pledge to carry on after bomb

Northern Ireland's political leaders yesterday pledged to defend their power-sharing government against dissident republicans who bombed a court.

Police said it was a miracle no-one was killed in the car bomb explosion outside Newry courthouse in Co Down shortly after 10.30pm on Monday.

Yesterday First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the attack. Mr McGuinness said: “Attacks such as this are futile and serve only to strengthen our resolve.”

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Chief Constable Matt Baggott was forced to reject Ulster Unionist accusations that police were underestimating the threat presented by dissident groups opposed to the peace process.

The entrance of the heavily fortified court complex was badly damaged in the explosion, which occurred close to restaurants and bars as police were still evacuating the area.

Mr Baggott revealed his officers had only 17 minutes to clear nearby buildings before the bomb exploded.

He said the attack damaged the ability of Newry to be at the heart of economic success “so this is much much more than simply an attack on a court building.”

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Last night police were responding to further bomb alerts in north Belfast and in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

The Newry attack was the first since the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein successfully brokered the Hillsborough political deal to stabilise the power-sharing administration led by the two parties.

First Minister Mr Robinson said: “The people who carried out this attack are determined to destroy all that has been achieved in recent months.

“Their sole aim is to return Northern Ireland to its darkest past.

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“They will not succeed for I am equally determined that we will continue to move forward and to protect and defend the very same institutions they seek to destroy.”

Mr McGuinness said: “I am determined that last night’s attack will not undermine the progress we have made.”

The alarm was raised after the car carrying the bomb, originally estimated by police to be up to 800lb but later put at 250lb, was abandoned after being reversed against the gates of the court.

The blue Mazda vehicle carried registration plates from Co Monaghan.