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Bomb rocks hopes for peace in N. Ireland

fire in the street

July 14, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EDT (0230 GMT)

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The Irish Republican Army denied planting the car bomb that ripped through a hotel in Enniskillen Sunday, an act of terror that threatens to make Northern Ireland's uneasy peace a bitter memory.

(839K QuickTime movie of damage from hotel bombing)

The bomb at the Killyhevlin Hotel-- the first in Northern Ireland since the IRA stopped its violent campaign against British rule in 1994 -- crowned the worst week of rioting seen here in a generation.

It reinforced the fear that Northern Ireland is sliding back into violence and grief, a past vividly recalled in Enniskillen, where an IRA bomb killed 11 Protestants in 1987 as they commemorated the dead from two world wars.

Unrest in North Ireland
A Gallery

"This whole (peace) process is very, very much off the rails, and only a miracle's going to save it in the short term," said veteran journalist Eamonn Mallie.

Trust among the key players -- the North's largest pro-British Protestant and Irish Catholic parties, and the British and Irish governments -- has evaporated, he said.

Future of talks

The bombing in Enniskillen has split public opinion among Protestants and Catholics.


"The IRA denied the murder of the Irish policeman in Adare, and then it turned out that the IRA committed it," said David Trimble, a Unionist Member of Parliament. "So, the IRA are not watertight."

However Catholics participating in a march in Belfast said they accepted the IRA's denial.

"When they say they didn't do it, we believe they didn't do it," one woman said. "When they put a bomb, they always claim their bomb. And they did not claim this one, and we believe them."

Irish Prime Minister John Bruton said more talks are the key to furthering the peace process. (256K AIFF or WAV sound)

"While the sense of anger and disillusionment and division is very deep and is obviously revealed for all to see in the events of recent days, the truth still remains that the only way forward is through dialogue," Bruton said. "The talks commence next Tuesday and I believe that everybody must bend every effort to make those talks a success."

Sinn Fein's President Gerry Adams said British Prime Minister John Major and Bruton must show leadership to get the peace talks going again, without preconditions.

"The historically important opportunity presented by the IRA cessation of almost two years ago has been frittered away on the back of British policy," Adams said. "All of that could have been avoided, and that is a lesson that has to be learned if we're to put this together again."

A week of riots

truck ramming truck

Violence erupted last Sunday when police blocked members of the Orange Order, Northern Ireland's dominant Protestant fraternal group, from marching through a Catholic part of Portadown, a town 25 miles southwest of Belfast.

The Orangemen stood their ground, and militant Protestants rioted for four days.

Since Thursday, when police conceded defeat and allowed the march through the Catholic area, Catholic fury has spilled onto the streets.

Police and soldiers spent a third night Saturday attempting to control mobs of Catholics who hurled gasoline bombs, bricks and rocks at them in Belfast and Londonderry, the province's second- largest and predominantly Catholic town, where Northern Ireland's "troubles" began with similar scenes in 1969.

Northern Ireland shaken

police watching parade

With British soldiers back patrolling for the first time in 15 months, there is a growing consensus among Catholics and Protestants in Belfast that the peace process was finished before the bomb in Enniskillen ... but that the bomb in Enniskillen finished it off.

Catholics now brace for Protestant reprisals for a bomb the IRA says it didn't plant, while Protestants fear IRA violence is no longer limited to England.

CNN Correspondent Bill Delaney and Reuters contributed to this report.


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