A bomb has been found near the car of a female police officer in County Derry in what the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, has described as an “attempted murder”.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) confirmed a viable explosive device had been found on Monday evening outside the officer’s home in a rural part of the county. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack but police believe the New IRA dissident group is behind the attack, its first in over a year.
The device, which was initially reported to have been found beneath the vehicle, was in fact left beside the part-time officer’s car, next to where her three-year-old daughter sits, and was attached to a container of flammable liquid.
The PSNI assistant chief constable Mark McEwan said: “They know the effect if this device donated, it would have engulfed the car completely and those in it. It’s time for people to examine their conscience. Is this the sort of group they want to support? A group that has shown complete disregard for young people and now we have another callous attack where a mother and a toddler were the potential victims.”
The incident threatens to further escalate tensions in the region, which has been rocked by a spate of violence and rioting over Easter partly driven by opposition to Brexit checks on goods being shipped in from Great Britain.
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson pledged to cut the “ludicrous” border checks and get “the barnacles off” the Northern Ireland protocol. The prime minister told BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight: “What we are doing is what I think is removing the unnecessary protuberances and barriers that have grown up and we are getting the barnacles off the thing and sandpapering into shape.
“If it looks as though the EU is going to be very dogmatic about it and we continue to [be in an] absurd situation so you can’t bring in rose bushes with British soil into Northern Ireland, you can’t bring British sausages into Northern Ireland, then frankly I’m going to, we’ll have to take further steps.”
Others were quick to point out that the checks were a direct result of the hard Brexit that Johnson had pursued.
Maroš Šefčovič, the European commissioner overseeing Brexit issues, said : “This agreement was negotiated signed and ratified by the government of Prime Minister Johnson. When it comes to the some of the claims, what I have to say here is that all of them are consequences of the Brexit, the type of Brexit, which was chosen by the British government.
“All the examples … could be very easily resolved in the United Kingdom would have decided to stay in the area of sanitary and phytosanitary controls. So here we are dealing with, with the consequences of Brexit.”
Šefčovič said the commission was, however, in talks with the UK government over making the implementation of the checks more palatable in light of the violence of recent weeks.
“Of course, what we want to make sure is that we would minimise the disruption, for the people in Northern Ireland but it has to be a two way street,” he said. “We are ready to do our parts, but I’m sure that the UK can do more, and this is what we would like to discuss and what we are discussing with our British counterparts.
“The checks could be smoother, if we finally do get appropriate access to the IT system for customs checks. A lot of these controls could be removed if it would find the solution on respecting well-regarded standards for food protection, for phytosanitary controls and for all the issues linked to such important elements as public safety, public health and animal welfare.
“All these things we proposed to the UK government at the time of the negotiation of withdrawal agreement and the trade deal – as you know very well they’ve been rejected, and therefore, now we go through very demanding negotiations, how to implement it on the ground.”
If Johnson were to take the step of invoking article 16 of the protocol it would be hugely confrontational. Relations with the EU have yet to recover after an official in Brussels threatened such a move in January in relation to vaccine supplies.
Officials in London and Brussels are engaged in intense technical talks to smooth the application of the protocol, which has polarised views in Northern Ireland. National political leaders along with many business leaders want to make it work and argue that if a pragmatic approach is found to checks then the region could have the best of both worlds, allowed to trade both in the EU and the UK without trade barriers.
However, loyalist and unionist leaders want it scrapped and it contributed to Easter’s rioting. The DUP peer Nigel Dodds last week described the EU’s approach as “belligerent” claiming it had “ignored the view of unionists and trampled all over the founding principles of the devolved settlement” including the principle of consent of all communities.
The attempt to blow up a police officer’s car was denounced across the political spectrum, with Lewis describing it as “absolutely abhorrent” and the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Louise Haigh, calling it “reprehensible”.
In a statement, McEwan said: “We are treating this as an attack on a member of staff who also serves her community as a part-time officer.”