The fire-bombed Everglades hotel in Londonderry has been praised for a speedy return to business following a dissident republican fire bomb attack.
Sir William Hastings, chairman of Hastings Hotels, visited the scene on Friday and said damage was limited to the reception area. Staff were working hard to ensure the hotel is open this morning he said.
“I would like to praise the general manager, Neil Devlin, and his excellent team for acting so quickly and professionally to avert a major atrocity,” he added.
Ulster Unionist councillor Derek Hussey described the swift reopening as “Phoenix-like” when he visited the hotel on Saturday morning.
He said. “The actions undertaken by staff on the night of the attack have been praised and rightly so. It does not bear thinking about as to what carnage could have been witnessed had they not done so.
“The damage remains obvious and the smell lingers but the determination of management and staff for ‘business as usual’ shines through.
“What those who perpetrated this senseless attack on a local business might have hoped to achieve is beyond me”.
A Londonderry man who returned home for a family funeral has described his shock at being caught up in the attack on the hotel.
Brian McDaid, who now lives in Africa with his family, had just arrived back the day before the bomb was planted, on Thursday at 11.15pm.
Mr McDaid said that around 15 other relatives were also staying in the Everglades Hotel at the time.
“It was just before midnight when it happened,” he said. “The children were in bed. The fire alarm or signal went off, and at first I thought nothing of it, just thought it’s probably a false alarm and someone will turn it off.
“Then it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, that there was some genuine reason why the alarm had been sounded.
“We heard a lot of movement outside, and what can you do, you just have to stay calm and get out of there.”
Other people who had been in reception described how a man had run in to the hotel and dumped a bag on the counter.
“There were some children who were quite upset,” Mr McDaid told the Derry Journal.
Police said the reception area was badly damaged. The bomb exploded as army technical officers approached it early yesterday morning.
PSNI Chief Superintendent Stephen Cargin said: “A masked man went into the hotel and left a hold-all at the reception desk saying he was from the IRA.
“The device exploded in the reception area of the hotel when Army bomb experts were working to make it safe.”
He later added: “The staff very bravely and very quickly evacuated the hotel and actually I do believe they have saved lives.”
If the bomb had exploded earlier “we would have dealing with mass casualties” he added.
The officer confirmed that police were considering that dissident republicans may have targeted the hotel as it was to host a PSNI recruitment drive.
Gary Rutherford saw the bomber while parked outside the hotel reception.
“A man ran past the car with a hoodie and a holdall. He threw the bag at the desk,” he said. “It wasn’t until he came out again, we realised his face was covered up.”
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it was “pure luck” that no one was hurt or injured. “Those responsible have nothing to bring to their community or NI and I urge anyone with information to bring it to the police,” she said.