Unexploded Bomb May Shatter N. Ireland Peace

In Northern Ireland, a 400-pound car bomb failed to detonate over the weekend. It was placed outside police headquarters in Belfast, and that has residents wondering if dissident factions of the IRA are intent on stepping up violence.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

It's been over a decade since an Irish Republican Army dissident group set off a massive car bomb in Northern Ireland that killed 29 and became the deadliest ever terror strike there. Over this past weekend, another deadly attack was thwarted. A 400-pound car bomb had been planted outside a government building, but after the car caught fire, it failed to explode.

NPR's Rob Gifford is on the line to talk more about this turn of events and what it might mean there. Good morning.

ROB GIFFORD: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, the Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed back in 1998, after -just after this bombing I was talking about earlier. The IRA renounced violence at that time. So, who is planting a 400-pound bomb now and why?

GIFFORD: Well, the police in Northern Ireland believe that it is so-called dissident Republican groups. The Republicans are, of course, the people who want Northern Ireland to be united with the rest of Ireland. The Loyalists are the people who want Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain. And these dissident Republican groups opposed the IRA giving up their arms. They opposed the Irish Republican Army's deal that it did with the British government and with the loyalist groups in Northern Ireland. There were people at the fringes of the IRA who did not agree with that, who wanted to continue with the fight for an immediate united Ireland, and those are the groups who have carried on this low-level of shootings and bombings that have plagued Northern Ireland -not at a really massive level over the last decade, but it's always there. There's a sort of low growl of dissident IRA activity.

MONTAGNE: Although, it must seem - I mean, a 400-pound bomb sounds like it could do a awfully lot of damage. I mean, how many people are we talking about? How much popular support do they have? And it sounds like they might be attempting bigger attacks.

GIFFORD: That's right. This is a huge bomb, by any standards. I think the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are behind the peace agreement. Most people have had enough of violence. I think we're talking of a hardcore dozens of people here, rather than hundreds. But it should be said that after decades - centuries, almost - of animosity, you can't get rid of that animosity overnight. So, although the different communities and many people in them do support the peace agreement and do support the cessation of - by most people -of violence, the hostility, the low-level lack of trust, if you like, in the different communities is still very much there. I was there quite recently, and you could still feel it. There was - of course, in the different Republican and Loyalist communities, it's not going away. It's going to take probably a whole generation or two before that really goes away.

MONTAGNE: So, the current state, then, of the peace process, how is it working on the ground?

GIFFORD: Well, it has not been a completely smooth path, as you would expect, after what has happened over the years in Northern Ireland. But we do have a power sharing agreement between former enemies, and that in itself is extraordinary when you look at the people who have entered into this power-sharing agreement. At the moment, there's a dispute about policing, about devolving the full control over policing and justice issues from London to Belfast, to the local government there. And that's going on, and there's lots of back and forth and there's lots of arguing. But the fact that the power-sharing agreement even exists, I think some people feel is a miracle. And so the fact that the majority of the people are behind it, despite the many, many problems that there are to iron out over the coming years is, I think, a massive step forward, and everybody feels that.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Rob Gifford. Thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you, Renee.

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