By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Dissident republicans are being blamed for a bomb attack on the Belfast-to-Dublin railway line in South Armagh on Friday, June 30.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chief constable of the RUC, said the attack was probably the work of the so-called Real IRA, the group responsible for the Omagh bombing in August 1998.
Also last week, the IRA opened fired on a mob of loyalists in West Belfast who had twice crossed the peace line to smash up Catholic homes and cars. Two bursts of gunfire were heard in the area.
There was also widespread disgust expressed over a new loyalist mural in the Shankill Road area of Belfast "celebrating" five multiple-murders carried out by UDA and UVF gunmen. The painting lists five shootings — at the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, Co. Derry, and at a council depot, the Devenish Arms and James Murray’s bookmakers, all in Belfast.
A total of 17 Catholics were murdered at random in the attacks. The inscription underneath reads: "Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?"
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The railway line bomb blast was reported by people near the village of Meigh, about three miles from Newry, at 2:30 a.m. There were no reports of any injuries or damage to property.
"At this stage, its too soon to be definitive, but we would assess that this was the work of dissident republicans," Flanagan said. "We have known for some time it has been the intention of dissident republicans in that area to carry out attacks," he said.
The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said the attack was evidence that there were still people who objected to the peace process and that they must be defeated.
The local SDLP assembly member, John Fee, said the bomb attack was another attempt at trying to raise tensions at a very sensitive time.
"The explosion was a rather crude intervention by some people who have nothing to contribute to our political future," he said.
Meanwhile, the latest British army helicopter to crash in South Armagh went down on Saturday, June 24, at about 6 p.m. The low-flying Lynx hit telephone wires two miles outside Crossmaglen and went down "about 30 yards from the road, where it lay for over an hour and a half," said South Armagh assembly member Pat McNamee.
Six British soldiers in the helicopter suffered slight injuries and were treated at the scene. According to Toni Carraher of the South Armagh Farmers Residents Association, the helicopter narrowly missed a house and farm buildings as it made an emergency landing.
Last week, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy accused a British Army pilot of flying "dangerously low" when a helicopter followed a woman as she collected her children from school. The woman had just been waved through a check point when the aircraft flew in low behind her car.
Also, loyalists carried out arson attacks on a north Belfast bar and on a County Derry Gaelic sports club within two days last week. The Circus bar on the Antrim Road was gutted in the early morning blaze on Wednesday. The arson attack has been linked to a dispute over the removal of dozens of loyalist paramilitary flags that were erected as part of a territorial feud among loyalists in Belfast.
The so-called Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name for the UDA, had threatened business owners in the area, warning them "further action" would be taken if the flags were removed. Up to 30 firefighters battled for over two hours to bring the pub blaze under control.
The building’s roof was destroyed and the first and second floors, which were rented out as office space, extensively damaged. Damage is estimated to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly urged nationalists to be vigilant, especially in North Belfast.
Also, extensive damage was caused when flammable liquid exploded at St. Oliver Plunkett’s GAA club in the village of Clady on Tuesday, June 21.
The Sinn Fein councilor for the area, Margaret McKenna, said it was a clear attack on the GAA. "It must be taken in the context of the attempted bombing of GAA facilities at Magherafelt and the murder of [GAA official] Sean Browne in Bellaghy," she said.