Belfast Telegraph

Derry car bomb: Fears of a return to the dark days of the Troubles as city picks up the pieces

Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

The car bomb in Londonderry did no damage to the reinforced windows of the city's courthouse, nor did the blast penetrate the steel grille windows of the Masonic Hall on the other side of the road.

The chilling CCTV footage of a group of teenagers walking past what police described as a "crude and unstable" device just minutes before it went off brought back horrific memories of the Omagh and Claudy atrocities.

They were born when the darkest days of our Troubles were a distant and painful memory in their parents' minds.

The sight of bewildered, frightened tourists and revellers being led to safety by police in the night is one we all thought we'd left in the past.

The car bomb, once the weapon of choice in the Provisional IRA's campaign of violence, has seemingly been adopted by a group calling itself the New IRA, and marks an escalation of terror in Northern Ireland.

The attack had many journalists parachuting in from England and beyond, linking it to the Brexit chaos.

The warning was phoned into the West Midlands Samaritans Helpline - a sick and disturbing detail in a city like Derry so plagued by suicide, depression and a distinct lack of hope.

Yesterday on the streets people were shocked, disgusted and deeply disturbed that they were experiencing the all-to-familiar uneasy feelings that the Troubles so often conjured up.

Doris Hazlett from Newtownards, who was visiting, said she didn't want to see the violence reignited.

"I think it's awful. We don't even know why it happened. I hope that it was a one-off and will never, ever happen again. I am old enough to have lived through the last Troubles and it would be awful if it ever did rear its head again. I am just hopeful that it won't," she said.

Forensics officers at the scene of the bomb attack outside Derry Courthouse
Forensics officers at the scene of the bomb attack outside Derry Courthouse
Police officers at the scene of the bomb attack outside Derry Courthouse
Police reassure bystanders

"Why can't people talk? That is the only way to resolve things.

"People can agree to disagree, but you have to go forward, you can't go back."

In nearby Alexander House, sheltered accommodation for elderly and vulnerable people which is just yards from the blast, residents said they were frightened and alarmed by the bomb.

Eamon Melaugh (86) said he feared greatly for the life of his son, who had just left him to walk into the city centre.

"I was in my living room which overlooks the bomb site and heard the blast," the pensioner said.

"I opened my curtains and saw the fireball.

"My son had left about three minutes before it went off and I was terrified he had been hurt.

"I panicked and I went out to the street looking for him.

"I could see the flames in the sky where the bomb had gone off.

"Thankfully the police stopped him from going that way.

"There is a degree of fear here in the sheltered accommodation. There is frustration and anger too.

"The people of our generation have gone through the Troubles. We lost thousands who were murdered and thousands more injured. And we learnt nothing from that carnage.

"It is a sad reflection on all of us."

Yesterday was the first time in the 386-year history of St Columb's Cathedral that a Sunday service was not conducted due to the fact that it was within the police cordon.

Ian Bartlett from St Columb's said that church business had carried on regardless through two World Wars and the Troubles.

"This is the first time ever that we have been unable to hold a service on a Sunday morning," he said.

"The congregation are saddened and disappointed, annoyed and very frustrated by it all."

The courthouse will remain closed today.

Trials and legal business have been adjourned until tomorrow, and other cases will be heard at Coleraine and Strabane Courthouses.

Despite the fact that the bombers greatly disrupted a busy weekend in the city centre, ensuring that a negative, frightening picture was painted of Derry throughout the world and instilling fear into a new generation, stories of resilience emerged.

Revellers evacuated from the bars along Bishop Street gathered in a hotel just beyond the cordon to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries regardless of the circumstances.

Yards from the mangled wreckage of the car, a rousing rendition of Black Eyed Peas' Tonight's Going To Be A Good Night was heard being sung enthusiastically. And yesterday morning those who were locked out of the places of worship gathered instead at the Peace Bridge to pray for everyone in Derry.

The business community, too, vowed to take back the city from the bombers.

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, said it was "back to business" for all the minute the cordons were eventually lifted.

"We are a resilient bunch in the hospitality sector and this incident last night will not deter us from opening today and getting on with the job," he said.

"We have been in touch with many of the businesses impacted by the situation in Bishop Street and the surrounding area and they have bounced back straight away, opening for business with normal trading hours and welcoming visitors and tourists back to the city.

"Derry-Londonderry is a great city and is an integral part of our tourism and hospitality offer at home and internationally and we must support it in every way we can."

Belfast Telegraph


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