McGuinness slams dissidents after car bomb attack
Dissident republicans who bombed a street in Derry early today were accused by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of attempting to drag the city back to its violent past.
The Sinn Fein MP, in Birmingham for the Conservative Party conference, said he was disgusted by the attack, which damaged several business properties including a bank and a hotel and restaurant complex.
Mr McGuinness, who lives in Derry's Bogside area, said: "These conflict junkies are attempting to drive a city living very much to the future, back to the past.
"People in this city are horrified that there are still these Neanderthals within our society."
Nobody was hurt in the explosion in Culmore Road just after midnight. There had been a warning and several people, including hotel guests, residents in a nursing home and people living nearby had been evacuated.
Staff at the Ulster Bank, which was among the properties damaged, were threatened some time ago by the Real IRA, the republican dissident faction which bombed Omagh in August 1998 when 29 people were killed.
Some people in Derry, which has been named at the UK Capital of Culture for 2013, believe the attack was timed to coincide with Mr McGuinness, the Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster and a former IRA commander in Derry, attending the Tory conference. He is due to speak at a fringe meeting.
Two months ago a 200lb car bomb exploded outside a police station half a mile away in the city's Strand Road. Dissident republicans were also blamed for that explosion.
SDLP Mayor Colm Eastwood said he was disgusted by latest the attack in the city, which was visited last week by the former US president Bill Clinton.
He said: "I do not know what these people are hoping to achieve. They say they love their country but they spend their time trying to destroy it.
"The people of this city will be very angry.
"It is just shocking that someone would put a bomb anywhere, but especially at a commercial centre."
Businessman Garvan O'Doherty, who owns the Da Vinci hotel and restaurant complex, said that, despite the bombing, the focus for everybody should remain on peace, partnership and prosperity.
He told BBC Radio Ulster: "The people who put the bomb in place will probably end up in jail and the young people being sucked into this issue are going to pay a heavy price in the future."
Mr O'Doherty said there would be setbacks, but people were determined to find a solution.
He added: "There needs to be dialogue. There is dialogue. There is dialogue going on to try and sort this issue out, to try and understand where they (dissidents) are coming from.
"A number of us are involved in various strands to try and ensure we get the message across to try and understand they are on about, because they are on the wrong track. This work will continue."
First Minister Peter Robinson issued a joint statement with Mr McGuinness, which said: "It is clear that the people who carried out this attack have no regard for life or property. Their sole aim is to disrupt our peaceful society and to create a culture of fear.
"We are as determined as ever to build a stable and peaceful society free from sectarianism and we will not allow the achievements of recent years to be destroyed by a small minority who have nothing to offer but a return to the past."
Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, who is at his party's Birmingham conference, condemned the bombing.
"The people behind these attacks on the local community have absolutely no political case to argue," he said.
"They have nothing to say about the future and so cling to a past that everyone else has left behind.
"The progress that has been made in Northern Ireland over the years has been hard-won. They will not destroy that."
Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said such attacks were "utterly wrong and entirely futile".
"I am relieved that no-one was injured in last night's incident but I appreciate that it caused fear and disruption to local residents," he said.
"It is also an attack on the economic infrastructure in Derry at a time when everyone is trying to attract jobs, tourism and investment. The perpetrators are trying to undermine the future for our young people.
"The vast majority of people on this island will not let this misguided few dictate or disrupt that future."
He appealed for anyone with information to supply it to the police, a call which was echoed by acting chairman of the Policing Board Brian Rea.
Mr Rea said board members were due to meet community representatives at the Da Vinci hotel later this week to discuss the policing of domestic abuse in the area.
"This is the type of issue that the local community want the police to be dealing with and they have no time for those responsible for this attack which has only served to cause inconvenience and disruption to their lives," he added.
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie, meanwhile, repeated her party's view that the security service should hand control for intelligence-gathering on dissidents back to the police.
"It is three years since primary responsibility for intelligence-gathering was removed from the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and during that time the dissident gangs have progressed from petrol bombs to car bombs," she said.
"The political expedient of putting MI5 in charge has failed."
Justice Minister David Ford said the bomb was an attack on the people of Derry, but also on the wider political process.
He added: "Those who planted this bomb have been rejected by the people of Ireland, both North and South, and they will not be allowed to succeed in their attempts to drag Northern Ireland back to the past.
"This bomb could have killed or injured and thankfully no-one was hurt in the blast.
"Once again the PSNI showed great courage in moving residents out of their homes and away from danger and anyone with any information about the attack should contact the police."