A Continuity Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes at Mahon’s Hotel in Irvinestown, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on February 6, 2000, less than 24 hours before the Ulster Unionist Party’s Ken McGuinness is due to visit. The Continuity IRA is the only republican organisation which has not called a ceasefire.
The bombing follows repeated warnings from senior police officers on both sides of the Northern Ireland border that republican dissidents continue to pose a threat. Both the Continuity IRA and Real IRA have been recruiting and rearming in preparation for a campaign to wreck the Northern Ireland peace process.
The splinter republican organisation is behind a bomb attack on the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen in July 1996. The attack follows a week-long marching stand-off at Drumcree.
In September 1997, it places at bomb in Markethill, in County Armagh, just 24 hours after Sinn Féin joins the political negotiations which lead to the Good Friday Agreement.
In January 1998, a Continuity IRA bomb wrecks a club in County Fermanagh. The explosion coincides with a series of loyalist attacks, which follow the murder of the Portadown Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader Billy Wright.
The latest explosion in Irvinestown comes in a week when the new political institutions are facing suspension because of the stalemate over paramilitary arms decommissioning. This attack by the Continuity IRA looks deliberately timed to add to the peace process’s troubles.
BBC Northern Ireland political editor Stephen Grimason says the bomb will not help the current situation. “We are hearing an argument reinforced from unionists that if these things are left lying around then people will use them,” he says. “So the anti-agreement unionists will be using this as a weapon. But I would have thought it will harden the attitudes of the Ulster Unionist Council and the Ulster Unionist executive, meeting tonight on the issue of weapons,” he adds.
Grimason adds that unionists in general will want to hear about the forensics of the bomb and if there was a Semtex booster charge used. “They will use that as another means of saying that this is all the IRA,” he says. But he adds that there will be those who will see this as a move against Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams because it removes the room for manoeuvre that he has.
BBC Northern Ireland chief security correspondent Brian Rowan says the bomb contained one to two kilos of high explosive, but that the security forces had not yet revealed what type it is. He says the bomb had the appearance of the Continuity IRA which in “times of trouble made more trouble.” He adds, “They would see this as a reminder that they are still out there and as a reminder to other republicans that there is an alternative to the mainstream IRA, and to the peace process strategy. It is about damaging a process that this organisation very much opposes, a process in which they believe republicans principles have been sold out.”
Rowan says security sources believe in some areas the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and the more mainstream Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) co-operate in attacks. INLA prisoners have been released under the Good Friday Agreement early prisoner release scheme, following the INLA’s ceasefire declaration.
“In the Fermanagh area security forces believe the Continuity IRA is operating alone and there is a pattern of activity over a period of years. There is nothing to suggest it was any other group.” He says there is nothing coming from republicans or security sources at this time to suggest that the IRA has any intention of actual decommissioning in the “immediate period ahead.”
(From: “Bombing follows dissident pattern,” BBC News, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk, February 7, 2000 | Photo: RUC forensic experts examine the scene of the bomb attack at Mahons Hotel in Irvinestown, Northern Ireland, Associated Press)