Belfast Telegraph

'Ignorant' politicians putting peace at risk, warns bomb survivor

A car bomb explodes outside Londonderry Courthouse in January
A car bomb explodes outside Londonderry Courthouse in January

By Jennifer McKiernan

A man who escaped injury in a bomb attack in Londonderry earlier this year has said the peace process must not be allowed to go backwards.

Local political divisions have come back under the spotlight following the murder of journalist Lyra McKee last Thursday night.

The priest at her funeral was given a standing ovation when he challenged politicians present about why it took her death to unite them.

In recent days politicians from all sides have stood together in condemnation of the New IRA, which admitted responsibility for Miss McKee's death.

The terror group also said it was behind a bomb attack in Derry on January 19.

A man caught up in the explosion has now spoken out, saying he is worried that "ignorant" politicians are contributing to an increase in tension in the area as the border has become a central sticking point in Brexit negotiations.

He told this newspaper: "People were raging that somebody would do this to us.

"Everybody is worried because we don't want to go backwards on the peace process when we have come so far.

"People just want to go on living their lives."

The man recalled how he was left cowering behind a police officer as the bomb went off in the middle of a mass evacuation.

The PSNI was given just 10 minutes to clear the area, which was not enough time, he said, and the bomb detonated as residents were still on the street.

"I heard a hard bang," he explained. "It was like a loud crack.

"The police were yelling 'Get down! Get down!' and I ended up crouched down with a police officer on top of me.

"There was a big black plume of smoke rising into the sky. The smell was really thick and unpleasant and the air tasted so bad. I was quite stunned."

Sectarian tensions have been steadily rising since the start of the year, but Theresa May has insisted that this is not linked to Brexit and that she is committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

In January, she told MPs: "This House stands together with the people of Northern Ireland in ensuring that we never go back to the violence and terror of the past."

However, the man caught up in the bomb blast said he did not think Brexiteer politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson were respectful enough of the "deep trauma" Northern Ireland had been through over the border.

"There is an issue with ignorance in Westminster and the people in power there who have never been here," he said.

"They seem to have forgotten the Troubles."

Mr Johnson has compared the Irish border to the boundaries between London boroughs inside the capital's congestion zone, claiming there could be an as yet unspecified technical solution to prevent a hard border after Brexit.

Mr Rees-Mogg, the European Research Group chairman, has been the ringleader for the hardest deal with the biggest risk to the Irish border.

The bomb survivor suggested Mr Rees-Mogg should visit to feel the tensions himself.

"The vapidity of this is insulting," he said.

"It's insulting to have politicians who don't try to respect the people here, who are gaslighting over the Troubles and misrepresenting the situation.

"This is a politically fragile place. Politicians are actively harming us with Brexit, which most people here voted against."

Former British negotiator to Northern Ireland Jonathan Powell said this week he believed the political vacuum around Brexit was contributing to sectarian violence here, although he was careful to stress it was not the sole cause.

But Tory Brexiteer MP Mark Francois, another member of the ERG, dismissed any link between the upswing in violence and Brexit.

"It's important not to confuse two different things," said Mr Francois.

"We've not had a Northern Irish Executive for around two years and that's nothing to do with Brexit.

"There is a political vacuum in Northern Ireland, but that's not because of Brexit.

"(It's) because Sinn Fein chose to withdraw from the Northern Irish Assembly and it's important not to mix the two up."

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