By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — The Real IRA is being blamed for a car bomb explosion in Birmingham, England.
Police in Birmingham warned there would have been “very serious loss of life” had a car bomb fully exploded. They called it a “very substantial” device, which the British special branch believes contained about 30 kilograms of home-made explosives.
The bomb did not fully detonate and no one was injured in the city center explosion, but it was similar in size to car bombs that exploded in London and outside BBC headquarters earlier this year.
The timing of the bomb was also significant, coming within hours of the RUC’s name change to the Police Service for Northern Ireland and amid serious difficulties in the political process.
The device was planted in a highly symbolic location for the people of Birmingham and in the history of the Troubles: just 100 yards from the site of two IRA explosions 27 years ago that killed 21 people.
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Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry said the bomb was not the work of opportunists but “well-planned for some time”. The area around the car, where people were enjoying a night out in restaurants, bars and nightclubs, was evacuated.
The secretary of state for Northern Ireland, John Reid, said: “Those responsible have absolutely nothing to offer but violence and destruction. We must redouble our efforts to protect those political institutions that can take us forward to stability through democratic politics.”
Meanwhile, there’s concern that the loyalist protest at Holy Cross school in Ardoyne could drag on for weeks after Protestant residents said they had reached an understanding with the police.
In return for loyalists standing slightly further back from parents and children as they walk to school, police officers were not wearing full riot gear for the first time in the 11-week dispute on Monday.
The police have been escorting pupils past the loyalist protesters along the Ardoyne Road since the beginning of term in September. On many days, excrement, urine, abuse, spit, fireworks, rocks and insults have been hurled at parents and children.
There were no noisy horns which have previously greeted the parents as they returned from the school on Monday. The loyalist Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne group said it held intensive meetings with senior police officers over the weekend.
Residents’ spokesman Stuart McCartney said he welcomed recognition by the police that the protest was legitimate. “We have endeavored all through the week to try to remove the children from the equation. We are working with the police now to ensure that,” he said.
Isobel McGrann of the “Right to Education Group” said parents and children felt vulnerable because of the reduction in security measures.
“I’m not happy with the scaling down. The police should have sat down with both sides to talk about this,” she said.
“I don’t think the loyalists have scaled down their blockade. This is just an attempt to sanitize their protest.”