Boris Johnson vowed to preserve peace in Northern Ireland during diplomatic forays to Germany and France last week, saying “under no circumstances” would the UK put checks and controls on the border.
The prime minister’s reassurance did not reach the narrow lanes and hedgerows of County Fermanagh. Here it felt like the bad old days had already returned.
A helicopter and surveillance aircraft criss-crossed grey skies over the village of Newtownbutler, while in the fields below police and soldiers fanned out in the grim, familiar choreography of securing a bomb scene.
A telephone warning to a newspaper about a bomb had brought them to this corner of Fermanagh, which borders the Republic of Ireland. The device turned out to be a hoax. But hidden nearby was a second device, a real bomb that exploded without warning on Monday.
It caused no casualties. But for security forces the shockwave was a stark reminder that they are engaged in a game of homicidal cat-and-mouse with an unseen foe – a game supposedly consigned to history.
“This was a deliberate attempt by the Continuity IRA to murder police officers and army personnel,” said detective superintendent Sean Wright, head of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) terrorism investigation unit.
Officers sealing off the area, forensic teams combing for evidence, media clustering at the end of a road – it had the air of deja vu, a tableau from the Troubles. The only thing missing was blood. The next attack – few doubt there will be another, and another – may deliver that.
Dissident republicans are escalating their campaign. The bomb was the fifth attack on security forces this year. [Continue reading…]