Northern Ireland

Lurgan bomb 'has stark similarities with Omagh'

A bomb attack in NI has "stark similarities" with the Omagh atrocity, a senior police officer has said.

Three children were injured in an explosion in Lurgan on Saturday. Dissident republicans are being blamed.

Chief Inspector Sam Cordner said police received a vague warning suggesting a bomb had been left at a primary school when the device was a few streets away.

It happened a day before the 12th anniversary of the Real IRA Omagh attack which killed 29 people.

On that day, an inaccurate telephoned warning to police meant people were directed towards the bomb.

Mr Cordner said he had no doubt that Saturday's attack was aimed at police officers who would be putting in place traffic diversions.

"When the device did explode, no police were present; however, local children were in the area and caught up in this explosion," he said.

"They have been treated for shock and it's a miracle that these children, aged between two and 12 years, were not more seriously injured."

A recent upsurge in dissident republican activity in Northern Ireland has included booby-trap bombs left under police officers' cars and an explosion outside a police station.

Margaret Ritchie, leader of the nationalist SDLP, has restated her party's call for the police to replace MI5 in its intelligence-gathering role.

MI5 has been responsible for national security issues in Northern Ireland since 2007; the SDLP argues it is wrong that MI5 is not held accountable by the justice minister or the police ombudsman.

"It would be better for the PSNI to have an intelligence-led service. The Gardai in the south have been given the capacity of intelligence-led policing and can go out and deal with them under the due process of the law," she said.

Mr Cordner said he was satisfied that current intelligence-sharing arrangements were adequate.

After this latest attack, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness repeated his claim that the British government has talked to dissident republicans in recent weeks.

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has denied the government wanted discussions with dissidents.

However, Chief Constable Matt Baggott has said dissident republican activity could not be dealt with by policing alone

Mr Baggott told RTE on Sunday he did not think it was a betrayal if politicians engaged in dialogue with such groups, but he said conditions would have to be attached.