NORTHERN IRELAND: My Girls Could Have Been in Coffins Today

Monday, August 16, 2010
Belfast Telegraph
Western Europe
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Holding hands, the three young girls sang and giggled as they walked to the corner shop in the summer sunshine to buy a loaf of bread.

But in one ugly moment on Saturday, this scene of childhood innocence was destroyed when a bomb exploded beside them.

Twelve-year-old Demi Maguire, her two-year-old sister Carla and her best friend, 12-year-old Lauren Hendron, have become the latest victims of dissident republican terrorists who have shown their readiness to murder men, women and children in their attempts to destabilise the Northern Ireland peace process.

The young girls escaped serious injury, suffering from cuts and shock, but Demi and Carla's mother Ronda Maguire is still shaken by the real possibility that her two daughters could have been killed.

“We could have been burying our two little girls today. The size of the hole in that fence makes you realise how bad it could have been,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The bomb exploded in a bin at North Street in Lurgan after a call was made to the Samaritans claiming a device had been placed near the Model School, but there was no mention of which town.

PSNI officers had launched an operation to search all Model Schools across Northern Ireland when the device went off without further warning.

It exploded at the spot where officers would have been placing a cordon around the school.

PSNI Chief Inspector Sam Cordner commented that the fact an object was said to have been left in one area, then a bomb exploded in a different place, “has similarities to the (1998) Omagh bombing that we would not like to repeat”.

Police came under sustained attack from petrol bombs and other missiles while investigating three other bomb alerts in the town, which were later declared elaborate hoaxes. Army bomb experts also dealt with a series of alerts in Belfast, Newcastle and Derry since Saturday.

And in Newry, a petrol bomb was thrown at a car belonging to a member of the District Policing Partnership.

Damian McKevitt, who lives in Drumalane Park, said he will not be deterred by those behind the attack.

The increase in dissident republican violence has dented some politicians' confidence in M15's intelligence gathering capabilities. SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie said that MI5 “is not up to the task of leading intelligence-gathering.”

Her party colleague Dolores Kelly also claimed that a “handful of dissidents are running rings around MI5”.

But the Police Federation and some Policing Board members have said they are satisfied with the intelligence being passed to the PSNI.

Around 40 people have been arrested since the beginning of the year in connection with terrorist offences, which suggests that the security services are receiving intelligence.

The public rarely hears details of terrorist operations that have been thwarted, but when a plan to shoot dead a Catholic police officer in Garrison last year was foiled after security services became aware of the planned attack, it became clear intelligence is being received.

There have also been suggestions that the security services have successfully infiltrated some of the dissident organisations, which could explain why a large number of devices have failed to explode properly.

Saturday's violence came just days after it was claimed by deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness that the Government was holding secret talks with dissident republicans.

Republican Sinn Fein said the claim was black propaganda.

The Lurgan bomb could be seen as an attempt by some dissidents to show they have no intention to negotiate or talk with the government.

Chief Constable Matt Baggott said yesterday he did not think it a betrayal if politicians engaged in dialogue with such groups, but he said there would have to be conditions attached.

He told RTE that the dissidents were a ruthless group who were prepared to target young mothers because they wear the PSNI uniform but that they would not succeed in their violent ways.

For the Maguire family, the reality of how close an escape the young girls had will stay with them for a long time to come.

“It's bad enough to make a bomb like this, but to leave it in a bin on the busiest day of the week. The girls could have been killed. They were just lucky. It could have been worse if it had been packed with ball bearings that you hear about in some of these devices,” Francis, Demi and Carla's father, said.

He added: “The bomb exploded in a wheelie bin just 15 feet in front of them. They panicked and started squealing.

“They'd never heard a bomb before and ran back down the street but people had come out of their houses.

“One woman brought the girls into her house to get them out of the road.

“Paramedics took them to hospital and checked them over, including their hearing, but it was more the shock than anything.

“We were told to keep them under observation for 48 hours. They were so lucky. I think their grandfather, who died recently, was watching over them.”