Irish premier Micheal Martin in Northern Ireland a week after Simon Coveney north Belfast bomb alert

Taoiseach Micheal Martin has said he has been heartened by the cross-community condemnation in Northern Ireland of a loyalist bomb threat that forced his Foreign Minister Simon Conveney to flee from a conference in Belfast last week.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 7:57 am
Updated Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 11:39 am

On a visit to Londonderry on Friday Mr Martin said he did “not think twice” about visiting the Province despite the bomb hoax that disrupted his Cabinet colleague’s speech to the John Pat Hume Foundation in north Belfast seven days earlier.

Condemning those behind the bomb alert, the Taoiseach said: “Democracy must always triumph. Society must have the freedom to engage, discuss and reflect.”

Ahead of his own speech on Friday night to the same foundation, Mr Martin said his security and that of his fellow Irish minister was a matter for the PSNI and the Gardai, and he would take his advice from them.

Speaking to the media in Londonderry, Taoiseach Micheal Martin (left) said he did not think twice about coming to Northern Ireland a week after a security alert disrupted a visit to Belfast by Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney.

The Taoiseach spoke with business leaders in the northwest from both sides of the border and visited the medical school at the city’s Ulster University Magee campus. He also paid a visit to Altnagelvin Hospital where the Irish Govrnment has co-funded cross-border cancer services.

Among those welcoming Mr Martin to the city was the DUP’s Mayor Graham Warke at the Guildhall where security was noticeably relaxed.

Mr Martin’s speech emphasising common ground between north and south on the island is part of a series of lectures organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation.

Last Friday Foreign Minister Coveney was just a couple of minutes into his own speech in Belfast when he was informed at the platform of a bomb alert at the event.

A hijacked van containing a suspect device was left outside the Houben Centre off the Crumlin Road and Mr Coveney was taken by PSNI and his Garda escort to a nearby police station for his protection.

It later emerged that the driver of the van had been held up in the Greater Shankill area by two gunmen and forced to drive the vehicle to the centre.

UVF sources have confirmed the terror group was behind the bomb hoax and that the alert had been sanctioned by the organisation’s leadership on the Shankill Road.

Condemning the hijacking and threats made to the driver of the van, the Taoiseach said: “The violence that was imposed on that gentleman, to be forced at gunpoint to make that harrowing journey, the vast majority of people on this island, who are respectful of political views, would abhor such an act.”

Mr Martin continued: “We thought those actions were consigned to history. I was heartened by the cross-community unity in the condemnation of that incident.

“As Taioseach I have been engaged wtih all perspectives in Northern Ireland, irrespective of people’s positions. I will continue to meet everyone in a spirit of co-operation, and endeavouring to have greater harmony and progress.”

He added: “Societies must have the freedom to engage, to discuss, and to reflect and that is critical.

“We know at a much larger scale what can happen. We have a war in Ukraine that has stemmed from authoritarianism veusus democracy and a fear of dialogue, that is what Russia is at.”

Meanwhile Mr Martin was challenged last night to explain why he has refused to meet the family of a Provisional IRA murder victim where there are allegations of collusion between his killers and members of the Garda Siochana. As Mr Martin arrived in Londonderry the DUP’s Diane Dodds called on the Irish Prime Minister to explain why he won’t hold talks with the family of Ian Sproule.

Mr Sproule was gunned in a hail of bullets outside his Castlederg home in 1991.

After his murder the IRA produed a Garda intelligence file on the 23-year-old to the media in an attempt to defend the killing.

Mr Sproule’s family has repeatedly stated that this demonstrated collusion between PIRA and individuals within the Garda.

Mrs Dodds pointed out that a former Assistant Chief Constable told the Swithwick Tribunal which investigated allegations of IRA-Garda collusion that he was satisfied beyond doubt that there was a leak from the Republic’s police force to the IRA in respect to Mr Sproule’s murder.

“The Taoiseach needs to explain why he is afraid to meet the family of an innocent man murded by the PIRA,” she said.