Chief Constable Matt Baggott has insisted that the PSNI is ready and able to deal with the terrorists who brought car bomb horror back to the streets of Northern Ireland.
Hitting back at accusations that he and Secretary of State Shaun Woodward have underestimated the terrorist threat, Mr Baggott said that the PSNI is continuing to invest in the right resources to tackle the dissidents.
Speaking at Stormont yesterday, deputy leader of the UUP, Danny Kennedy, claimed that the threats posed by republican dissidents “have been viewed with a certain amount of complacency by the Chief Constable and his senior command, and by senior political figures including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in the mistaken belief that these individuals were unrepresentative and lacked the manpower to cause serious problems.”
He added: “Clearly, it is not the case and we now face a deteriorating security situation, particularly in border constituencies, such as my own in Newry and Armagh.
“So, in my view, an immediate security response is required. This must include additional resources in the border area and increased use of intelligence to combat the threat posed by these so-called dissidents.”
However, Mr Baggott strongly rejected the claims, saying that that the PSNI has “injected significant resources” into bringing dissident republican terrorists to justice, adding that over the past 15 months, officers have arrested 130 people for dissident republican activity.
He added: “We are far from taking the dissident threat complacently. We have got many more police officers back on the street, we are continuing to invest in the right capability and technology to tackle the dissident threat.”
Mr Baggott said that the officers in Newry acted professionally and quickly after being given just 17 minutes to clear the area before the bomb exploded.
“There is absolutely no excuse for bringing bombs onto our streets in any shape or form, but added to that, the timing which we were given was severely limited,” he said.
Mr Baggott added: “This is not an attack on a court building, this is an attack on people whose lives depend on the well-being of Newry.
“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 economic success, so this is much, much more than simply an attack on a court building.”
Secretary of State Shaun Woodward also rejected Mr Kennedy’s claims of police and government complacency saying: “I think it’s very unfair to accuse the police of complacency and it’s unfair to accuse anyone of complacency on this. It is absolutely unfair on the police who, half an hour before the bomb went off, went about clearing the area, taking huge personal risks.”
But Mr Kennedy last night said he stood by his remarks, saying that he does he does not believe there are enough police resources to deal with the threat.
He added: “The Chief Constable and the Secretary of State have been describing dissident republicans as criminals. But these people are dedicated terrorists with the intent and capability to kill, they are not simply criminals.”
Politicians from across the spectrum — including First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — were yesterday united on condemnation of the bombers.
Mr Robinson said: “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 last night's attack will not undermine the progress we have made.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman told reporters: “Northern Ireland's politicians have been working incredibly hard to deliver a successful conclusion to the peace process and they will not allow a tiny minority to turn the clock back.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: “The people involved in these actions have no interest at all in a united Ireland.”
The PSNI yesterday said the bomb could have been approximately 250lb, downsizing it from an earlier estimate of 500lb-800lb.
Separate security alerts in Belfast and Co Armagh were last night declared hoaxes.
Residents in the Rosevale Street area of north Belfast had to be evacuated from their homes from about 8.30am yesterday while a number of controlled explosions were carried out on a suspicious car. The area was eventually declared safe at about 5pm and a spokeswoman for the PSNI confirmed nothing suspicious had been found.