A Northern Ireland policeman was killed in a car bomb attack on Saturday, which leaders on all sides vowed would not be allowed to derail the province’s delicate peace process.
Ronan Kerr, 25, a Catholic recruit who only completed his training three weeks ago, was killed 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 toward dissident republicans, who oppose the power-sharing peace process.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said it was a “Neanderthal” attempt to scare Catholics off from joining the province’s police service.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he utterly condemned the 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 said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose husband, former US president Bill Clinton, helped facilitate negotiations that led to the “Good Friday” peace agreement in 1998, condemned the murder, calling it a “cowardly act.”
“The perpetrators of this cowardly act represent the failures of the past, and their actions run counter to the achievements, aspirations and collective will of the people of Northern Ireland,” Clinton said in a statement.
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.
The first was shot dead during an outbreak of deadly attacks by republican dissidents in March 2009 that also saw two UK soldiers gunned down, the first such killings in 12 years.
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,” Baggott said.
The target and location of the attack both bear significance.
Since the PSNI was formed, growing numbers of Catholics have signed up. While mainstream republicans, such as Sinn Fein — the largest Catholic party — support the PSNI, dissidents see it as an arm of the British state.
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 about 200 others in an August 1998 attack.
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 UK.