Just after 8pm in the evening on Saturday 19th January 2019 a car bomb exploded outside Derry’s courthouse in Bishop Street. Four men have been arrested in connection to the PSNI’s investigation into the bombing. Fortunately no one was killed or injured, but it could have been different as minutes before the bomb exploded a group of young people walked down Bishop Street next to the car bomb.
The PSNI suspect this attack was carried out by the New IRA. Earlier that evening the car was being driven by a pizza delivery man in Quarry Street, Derry and he was hi-jacked at gunpoint by two armed men. The armed men then drove the vehicle to the courthouse and placed the bomb inside the car. Shortly after parking the car a telephone warning was given to the West Midlands Samaritans in England, who then contacted the West Midlands Police, who in turn informed the PSNI. This has all the similar hallmarks of PIRA’s activity and behaviour during the Troubles.
There has been widespread condemnation of the attack from all Northern Irish political parties. Derry’s mayor and SDLP councillor, John Boyle said the city was shocked and saddened and during a media interview told those responsible for carrying out the attack that such actions will not achieve anything.
One question is why are we witnessing such activity that is suspected to be carried out by dissident republican groups? In my earlier blog posts covering dissident activity in the North of Ireland I have explained how fears of a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic post Brexit is playing into the hands of dissident republican groups. (Visit my website drdavidlowe.co.uk) The messages spouted by the republican group Saoradh who use, twist and manipulate various political and economic issues to spread and fuel discontent has had a degree of success. The Bishop Street car bomb should not come as a complete surprise as recently as November 2018 a number of gun attacks were carried out in Derry that were linked to dissident republican paramilitaries. Loyalist groups have also been carrying out acts of violence and in January 2019 four men were convicted in Belfast Crown Court of murdering a man in County Antrim.
One important issue that must be negotiated with sensitivity and pragmatism is the Brexit backstop plan regarding the Irish border. At the time of writing the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, is reconsidering this issue. In order that the current UK government can secure an agreement in the House of Commons over its Brexit plans, hopefully this will not result in abandoning the backstop plan and result in a hard border, as this has the potential to destabilise the peace process introduced following the Good Friday Agreement. This is not an idle warning, this is based by my research, experience and knowledge of the North of Ireland, in order to secure the current UK government’s position it should not use the six Northern Irish counties as a sacrificial lamb to appease both DUP and English based MP’s. If they do there is a real possibility of the Troubles returning to the North of Ireland.
Issues related to this blog post can be read in more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge.