Northern Ireland Bombing Further Pressures Faltering Peace

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - British and Irish politicians faced new pressures Monday to salvage a faltering Northern Ireland peace process after terrorist bombers targeted a rural hotel Sunday.

No one was injured in the attack on the hotel in Irvinestown, County Fermanagh, but it was a stark reminder of what is at stake for all parties involved in efforts to secure peace in the province.

No group assumed official responsibility for the bombing, although a man who telephoned a warning to the hotel and news organizations in Belfast ahead of the blast said he was from the "Continuity IRA."

The group is one of several dissident offshoots of the Irish Republican Army. The mainstream IRA has been upholding a cease-fire since 1997, and its political wing, Sinn Fein, was quick to condemn the bombing.

The bombing comes as the peace process is in jeopardy, with the British parliament about to pass emergency legislation to take back political control of Northern Ireland from a Protestant-Catholic executive set up two months ago.

The British action is an attempt to prevent the province's First Minister, David Trimble, from carrying out his threat to resign if the IRA had not begun to disarm by the beginning of February.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government said it would restore direct rule from London by the end of this week if the IRA had not acted by then to prove it was seriously committed to destroying its guns and bombs.

Addressing a Labor Party function in Blackpool Sunday, Blair appealed directly to the IRA to disarm - or at least give him a clear timetable laying out when and how they would do so.

Such a timetable could still save the power-sharing provincial executive, even if actual disarmament does not begin this week, he said.

"There comes a moment when you have to decide whether the symbols you have lived with are more important than the principles you really believe in.

"This is the moment when we need to know. The issue of [weapons] decommissioning is
not going to go away. It is not going to disappear. It has to be confronted and resolved now."

Whether such a formula would be acceptable to Trimble or his pro-British Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is unclear, however.

Although unionists interpret agreements as giving the paramilitary groups until May to disarm, they expected the process to begin before the home-rule government was set up.

Trimble eventually agreed to a compromise in November, saying the provincial executive could begin to function on the condition that disarmament would also begin.

If there was no progress by the time the process was reviewed in February, he assured his party, he would resign as First Minister.

The UUP seized on Sunday's bombing to hammer home the importance of disarmament of all paramilitary groups - Catholic republican and Protestant loyalist.

"We cannot allow any paramilitary organization, republican or loyalist, to remain in existence with illegal guns and explosives," said UUP lawmaker Ken Maginnis.

"Even if they adhere to their own cease-fires, their weapons of war will inevitably end up in the hands of dissidents."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow