Pre-election violence in Northern Ireland

FEARS by police in Northern Ireland that dissidents would attempt to overshadow the British election in the province with violence seems to be coming true.

A pipe-bomb exploded outside the home of a Catholic police officer’s father last night.

The front window of the house in Durmalane, Newry, was blown in and minor damage caused to a wall last night. There were no injuries.

Earlier in the week Northern Ireland deputy police commander Judith Gillespie said officers would mount extra foot patrols and road checkpoints leading up to the May 6 vote amid signs dissident bombers might target polling stations, government buildings or economic centres.

“We are very alive to this possibility,” she said at Belfast police headquarters.

Hours after she spoke, British Army experts dismantled a pipe bomb that had been abandoned in a hedge in an area divided between rival British Protestant and Irish Catholic districts of north Belfast. No group claimed responsibility.

Also, a road that runs past Belfast’s two main courthouses is being sealed off to traffic because of concerns that IRA dissidents could use it to plant a car bomb.

Splinter groups opposed to the IRA’s 1997 cease-fire and the Catholic-Protestant government it inspired have detonated three car bombs this year, including two this month. The blasts have caused little damage and no serious casualties, but illustrate the dissidents’ growing bomb-making ability.

Commander Gillespie said the dissidents appeared most determined to kill police officers, but also hoped to mount any attack tied to the vote.

“Obviously, with the election coming up, it is quite possible they will seek to maximise the impact of an attack in the run-up to that election,” she said.

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