3 Apr 2011

Omagh bomb: republicans are ‘seething with anger’

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams says republicans are “seething with anger” at the murder in Omagh of police officer Ronan Kerr, who had only joined the Police Force of Northern Ireland last year.

Ronan Kerr was almost certainly killed because he was a Catholic policeman.

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott told a press conference Ronan Kerr’s family had expressed to him their deepest pride in him.

There is little doubt that the attack in Omagh, County Tyrone, on Saturday afternoon was carried out by so-called dissident republicans. It has been condemned from all sides.

Northern Ireland’s First Minster, Peter Robinson, said: “We are just not going to go back to those dark old days. This community has entered a new era. We will not be dragged back.”

The people I know, and who I’ve known all my life, are seething with anger. Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein President

Two PSNI officers have now been murdered since the force was established. The first, Stephen Carroll, was also a Catholic – although his killers may not have known it.

But dissident republicans have been targeting Catholic officers. Their strategy is to stop the PSNI becoming too reflective of society in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: “The people who I know, and who I’ve known all my life, and people who I’ve been in touch with overnight, are seething with anger. They just see this as a futile action.

“And some of those are very, very hard-boiled republicans who’ve been through the hardest part of this struggle over the last 30 or 40 years, who have suffered themselves grievously. And they just feel outright anger at what has occurred.”

“To disrupt the normalisation of the six counties.” That’s what one dissident republican sympathiser told me when I asked what the point of the violence was, writes Carl Dinnen for Channel 4 News.

This is their strategy. To stop Northern Ireland becoming normal. If the province can be destabilised perhaps the dissidents can attract more people to their cause, gain momentum.

But it’s becoming a pretty normal place, a place where a man can join the police regardless of his religion. 25-year-old Ronan Kerr had only been in the Police Service of Northern Ireland for a few weeks.

Ronan Kerr, the Catholic police officer who was killed in a booby-trap car bomb in Omagh, County Tyrone

But during that time the PSNI has passed a major milestone. The force is now more than 50 per cent Catholic. It was announced that the 50-50 recruitment policy for Catholic and Protestant applicants would now be dropped. Another step towards normalisation.

Violent dissident republicans have been targeting Catholic officers. They don’t want people from “their” community joining up. It’s too normal. One theory has it that they also want to put the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness in the position of having to follow a police coffin.

But McGuinness, once a senior IRA commander, has already backed the police and called the dissidents “traitors”. It doesn’t seem to have troubled his own constituency.

There is anger and disgust in Northern Ireland that this has happened but perhaps not shock. Under-car bombs have targeted police, soldiers and prison officers in Kilkeel, Dungannon, Belfast, Randalstown, Bangor. It seemed only a matter of time before someone got killed.

Death in the afternoon
"This is the fourth member of the security services in the past two and a half years to meet death at the hands of these people. You have the two soldiers up in Antrim, at the Massereene army base, Constable Stephen Carroll in the Craigavon area, and now this young man, who's a local man.

"But what is really alarming for the authorities here is the capacity of these people now to actually put together bombs of this capacity - these improvised devices which have the capacity to do such damage."

Read more from Eamonn Mallie on the killing of a young police officer in Omagh

So I don’t think this will stop young Catholics from joining the PSNI. The risks were already there. The last policeman killed in Northern Ireland, Stephen Carroll, was a catholic although it’s unlikely the person who shot him through his car window had any idea of that.

This murder does create a major problem for the security forces though. The dissidents have got their undercar IEDs right. One former police officer told me they only take a few seconds to plant. Anyone who doesn’t lock their car away at night is at risk.

And spare a thought for Omagh. It’s 13 years since dissident republicans blew up the centre of the town killing 29 Saturday afternoon shoppers and workers. For many people that kind of trauma lies close to the surface. This will be a terrible Mothers Day for more than Ronan Kerr’s family.