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Hotel Bomb Has Many Convinced That ‘Troubles’ Are Back

July 15, 1996

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (AP) _ A week of rioting was capped with a car bomb that ravaged a country hotel, leaving many in Northern Ireland convinced that ``the troubles″ are returning to the British province.

The Irish Republican Army denied that it planted the bomb that exploded early Sunday outside the Killyhevlin Hotel _ the first in Northern Ireland since the IRA stopped its violent campaign against British rule in 1994.

But many Protestant residents were skeptical.

``People kidded themselves about the peace. They couldn’t see the truth about the IRA,″ said Jim Dixon, 58, who was blinded and lost several close friends in a 1987 IRA bombing in the same town.

The hotel, a social hub for this lakeside town, had been packed with a Roman Catholic wedding party, bar guests, tourists and fishermen when a caller warned hotel staff there was a bomb in a car parked outside. All 250 guests were evacuated.

Twenty-five minutes later, an Isuzu Trooper _ stolen 11 days ago in Dublin _ exploded with 1,200 pounds of homemade explosives.

The blast knocked people to their feet, but only three people were slightly injured. Scores were treated for shock.

The bombing crowned the worst week of rioting seen here in a generation.

Violence erupted July 7 when police blocked members of the Orange Order, Northern Ireland’s dominant Protestant fraternal group, from marching through a Catholic part of Portadown, a town 25 miles southwest of Belfast.

The Orangemen stood their ground, and militant Protestants subjected Northern Ireland to four days of rioting.

Since Thursday, when police conceded defeat and allowed the march through the Catholic area, Catholic fury has spilled onto the streets.

For three nights, police and soldiers repelled mobs of Catholics who hurled gasoline bombs, bricks and rocks at them in Belfast and Londonderry, the province’s second-largest and predominantly Catholic town where Northern Ireland’s ``troubles″ began with similar scenes in 1969.

Sunday’s hotel bombing reinforced the fear that Northern Ireland is sliding back into murder and grief.

``This whole (peace) process is very, very much off the rails, and only a miracle’s going to save it in the short term,″ said veteran journalist Eamonn Mallie. Trust among the key players _ the north’s largest pro-British Protestant and Irish Catholic parties, and the British and Irish governments _ has evaporated, he said.

And the IRA’s paramilitary enemies, gangs loyal to Britain from militant Protestant areas, are threatening to resume killing Catholics. The two main loyalist groups called a cease-fire in October 1994.

``I think we’re on our way to hell and back.″ said David Ervine, a politician linked to the outlawed, paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. ``I don’t know how it can be retrieved.″

The IRA-allied Sinn Fein party, which throughout the 17-month IRA truce pleaded in vain to start peace talks with the province’s Protestant leaders, mobilized several thousand marchers Sunday in west Belfast.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told the crowd that peace had been squandered by Protestant demands that the IRA disarm. To cheers, Adams suggested the past week’s events had demonstrated ``why the IRA said it will not surrender its weapons.″

Talk like that scares people like Darrell Robinson, a 23-year-old Protestant worker at the Enniskillen Golf Club, a half-mile from the devastated hotel.

``The `troubles’ have been around longer than me. You were glad to have the peace, that’s all,″ he said. ``Hopefully, it’s not all been blown away.″

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