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We don’t want to return to bad old days, says city centre bar owner

John Bittles, pictured at his bar beside Victoria Square.

John Bittles, pictured at his bar beside Victoria Square.

If the 130lb-plus device had detonated, it would not have been the first time a car bomb had brought havoc to one particular Belfast venue.

Bittles Bar, a small corner pub a short distance from where the car bomb was left, is filled with pictures portraying the Province’s conflict-ridden past and hailing the arrival of peace.

Owner John Bittles, 53, and from north Belfast, spoke to the News Letter as he was opening up yesterday morning.

He believes it was about 20 years since they were last affected by such an attack.

The target had been the nearby courts, and the explosion broke “every window in the place”, forcing him to shut for several days.

Asked if he feels this marks a return to the bad old days, he said: “Ah, no. I think these boys are trying the odd attack. But nobody would want to see it go back to that. I’d not like to see it – nobody would. Especially coming up to Christmas.”

The pub was closed at the time of the partial explosion on Sunday. He indicated rows of valuable whiskey behind the bar – the implication being that if the bomb had gone off then these bottles, some of them collector’s items, would have been reduced to shards along with the windows.

Many who come to the pub nowadays are foreign visitors he said, and the decor includes a lot of Northern Ireland-themed pictures – some bearing scenes from the troubled past, and others showing old political enemies sharing a post-conflict drink.

“Tourists are coming in and we’re trying to show people: ‘this is what the Troubles was about’,” he said.

“But we don’t actually want to be living in them anymore.”

He pointed out a slogan on one of the paintings, reading: “Time for peace.”

The car bomb itself was parked close to the entrance of the car park on Victoria Street, with the pub on the other side, a short walk away.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association was among those condemning the attempted attack for its effect on the trading environment.

In a statement, it said: “This is the very last thing hard-pressed city centre traders need, particularly during the Christmas shopping period. It is an utter disgrace.

“We would urge consumers not to let the madmen behind this attack win by cancelling either their shopping or socialising in Belfast city centre during Christmas.

“Like many town and city centres in Northern Ireland, Belfast has fantastic retail and hospitality to offer and we would urge local consumers to exercise their civic duty and support our local traders in these tough times.”

 

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