Political Leaders United in Condemnation of Car Bomb; 'Miracle' No-One Was Injured in Northern Ireland Blast, Say Police

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Byline: Steven McCaffery

NORTHERN IRELAND'S political leaders yesterday pledged to defend their power-sharing government against dissident republicans who launched a car bomb attack on a court.

Police said it was a miracle no-one was killed in the 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.

But Chief Constable Matt Baggott was forced to reject Ulster Unionist accusations that police were underestimating the threat posed by dissident groups violently 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.

"There is absolutely no excuse for bringing bombs on to our streets in any shape or form, but added to that, the timing which we were given was severely limited," he said. "This is an attack which broke and damaged places of worship, this is an attack which has damaged the ability of Newry to be at the heart of our economic success, so this is much much more than simply an attack on a court building."

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

The Newry attack was the first since the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) 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.

"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 Monday night's attack will not undermine the progress we have made. The perpetrators are acting against the democratically expressed wishes of all of the people of Ireland.

"They have nothing to offer our society, we will continue on the road we have set out upon to deliver a better future. …