Policeman critical after bomb in tense N.Ireland

9th January 2010, Comments 0 comments

A police officer was critically ill in hospital on Friday after a bomb exploded under his car, in the latest upsurge of violence to hit Northern Ireland as it faces a looming political crisis.

Belfast - A police officer was critically ill in hospital on Friday after a bomb exploded under his car, in the latest upsurge of violence to hit Northern Ireland as it faces a looming political crisis.

Peter Robinson, first minister in the British province's power-sharing government, condemned the "cowardly, evil act" and vowed Northern Ireland would not return to its troubled past.

The attack on the policeman came as Robinson, the leader of the Protestant pro-London Democratic Unionists (DUP), faced calls to consider his position over alleged financial dealings linked to his wife's affair with a teenager.

The police officer, a Catholic named as Paedar Heffron, was driving to work in Randalstown, northwest of Belfast, on Friday morning when an explosion went off under his seat. The attack has been blamed on dissident republicans.

"A 33-year-old police officer is critically ill in hospital as a result of what we believe was a cowardly terrorist attack on not only that officer but on the community he served," said Detective Chief Superintendent Derek Williamson.

The explosion happened a short distance from the British army's Massereene Barracks, where two soldiers were shot dead on March 7 last year, the first such killings in a more than a decade.

It was the latest in a string of attempted car bombings since then, further emphasising the threat posed by dissident groups to the fragile peace in the province.

"This is terrifying. I just hope we are not slipping back into the dark old days. Everybody thought this was all behind us," said Heffron's cousin Martin Totten after the attack.

Robinson's deputy Martin McGuinness, of the Catholic republican Sinn Fein party, said his thoughts were with the policeman's family, adding: "These actions serve no purpose and will not further any cause."

After receiving emergency treatment locally, he was transferred to hospital in Belfast with an escort of up to a dozen police cars.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen condemned the blast as "an act of senseless violence" by a "tiny minority (who) will not succeed in deflecting us from the path of peace on this island".

The attack came two days after Northern Ireland's largest Loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), became the last pro-London group to disarm since the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.

But tensions are running high amid deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the transfer of police powers from London to Belfast, the final part of the devolution process.

The storm embroiling Robinson only added to the sense of crisis.

Northern Ireland's top politician and his wife Iris revealed this week she had had an affair. She stepped down as a lawmaker last month because of severe depression that last year caused her to attempt suicide.

But the story escalated after a BBC programme reported that Iris, 60, had secured GBP 50,000 (USD 80,000, EUR 56,000) from wealthy developers for her then 19-year-old lover so that he could open a cafe.

She faces charges she failed to declare her financial interest since she sat on the council which approved the business project.

Robinson said Friday he had known nothing of her activities but ordered an official inquiry into his conduct and admitted he would have to consider his position if he was found guilty of wrongdoing.

"I have consistently indicated that I have done nothing wrong, that I acted properly," he said.

He added: "If there is (a breach) I will have to clearly and publicly indicate that is so and that clearly will mean there are consequences that I have to consider... in regard to my position."

Eamonn Mallie/AFP/Expatica

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