Police under pressure for 'abandoning' bomb area
POLICE in the North faced growing anger last night after being accused of abandoning an area prior to a car-bomb attack.
The bomb that exploded outside a police station in a Co Armagh border village has underlined the continuing menace to the peace process posed by dissident republican groups.
The device caused significant damage to houses and other premises in the Co Armagh village of Newtownhamilton, but caused only slight injuries to two people.
The attack is the latest in a series of republican bombings that have caused serious concern to the security forces.
The bomb went off shortly before midnight on Thursday. A 50-minute warning had been telephoned to a Belfast hospital, which gave enough time for firefighters to alert local families, who rushed away before the explosion. The fact that police did not arrive before the blast led to criticism from residents and from both unionist and nationalist political figures.
Police commanders, who finally deployed officers to the scene around 10 minutes after the bomb went off, said they had to proceed with caution.
But Presbyterian minister in Newtownhamilton Rev Ker Graham said members of his congregation felt the police were reluctant to patrol the overwhelmingly republican district.
"There's no security within this area," he said. "My question is where does the border start for police? Because local people feel they don't like coming into this area. They feel vulnerable and are living in fear.
"South Armagh appears to be like a red dot for the police -- a bad area."
Newtownhamilton police station, which is manned on a part-time basis, came under attack only a week ago. On that occasion the device was defused by army experts.
Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy was critical of the fact that police did not arrive at the scene before the explosion. He added: "Had it not been for the excellent and very prompt work of local firemen, we could have had a very serious situation."
Chief Inspector Sam Cordner defended the police response and said they had to react with caution in an area where dissidents were "hell-bent on killing police officers".
He added: "We are always seeking to respond faster to meet community demands in that area. However, the threat in this area is severe and any police response needs to be measured and properly thought through."
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday condemned the attack.
Mr Ahern said: "The dissidents will not succeed. They need sectarian hate to fuel their campaign. No republican can support such people. They offer only division and violence."
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said the attack was reckless and senseless. (© Independent News Service)