Politicians condemn murder of N. Ireland policeman

3rd April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Politicians on all sides in Northern Ireland have insisted the killing of a Catholic policeman will not be allowed to derail the peace process, as the province gears up for elections.

Ronan Kerr, 25, and who completed his training only three weeks ago, was killed Saturday by the booby-trap under his car outside his home in Omagh, the scene of Northern Ireland's worst terror atrocity.

Responsibility for the attack has not yet been claimed. However, senior politicians pointed towards dissident republicans, who oppose the power-sharing peace process.

The victim is only the second member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to be killed since it succeeded the Royal Ulster Constabulary in 2001 as part of the peace process.

Since the PSNI was formed, growing numbers of Catholics have signed up. While mainstream republicans such as Sinn Fein -- the largest Catholic party -- support it, dissidents see it as an arm of the British state.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, of the Protestant-backed Democratic Unionist Party, said Saturday's murder was a "Neanderthal" attempt to scare Catholics off from joining the province's police service.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, said the perpetrators had "betrayed" the Catholic community and "set themselves against the will of the people of Ireland."

"While those behind this act seek to promote division and conflict let us state clearly -- they will fail. The process of peace building will continue."

The attack comes after the Northern Ireland Assembly dissolved last week ahead of elections to be held on May 5.

It was the first time that the devolved, power-sharing administration -- a keystone in the peace process -- had completed a full four-year term.

Meanwhile the timing, target and location of Saturday's attack all bear significance.

Omagh was the scene of the deadliest attack of the Troubles, the three decades of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics which was largely ended by the April 1998 peace accords.

The Real Irish Republican Army splinter group killed 29 people, including a pregnant woman, and wounded around 200 others in the August 1998 attack.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he utterly condemned Saturday's murder.

"Those who carried out this wicked and cowardly crime will never succeed in dragging Northern Ireland back to a dark and bloody past," he said in a statement.

"Their actions are rejected by the overwhelming majority of people right from all parts of the community."

Northern Ireland's people "have said time and again they want a peaceful, shared future," he added.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whose husband, former president Bill Clinton, helped facilitate negotiations that led to the "Good Friday" peace agreement in 1998 said the murder was a "cowardly act."

At Omagh police station, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott described Kerr as a "modern-day hero" who had joined the service to serve the community impartially.

"Tragedy has returned to Omagh. I have no words to describe the awfulness of the events and my abhorrence and anger at this wasted life."

The threat level for terrorism related to Northern Ireland, set by Britain's interior ministry, is at "severe" in the province, the second-highest of five levels, indicating that an attack is considered highly likely.

More than 3,500 people died in the Troubles between Catholics who largely wanted the province to become part of the Republic of Ireland and Protestants who generally want to stay within the United Kingdom.

© 2011 AFP

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