British Grapple With IRA Move to Target Hospitals

AUTHORITIES in Northern Ireland have been forced to take a fresh look at the already tough security arrangements in the province following a disturbing switch of tactics by the Irish Republican Army.In an escalation of their campaign of violence aimed at getting British troops out of Northern Ireland, IRA terrorists broadened their list of targets Nov. 2 to include hospitals. The bombing of Musgrave Park hospital in Belfast, which killed two soldiers and injured 10 patients, including a five-year-old girl, was the first terrorist attack on a medical facility in 22 years of violence in Northern Ireland. The attack prompted an immediate high-level meeting of Northern Ireland's security authorities. In the House of Commons Nov. 4, Peter Brooke, the Northern Ireland secretary, called the attack "one of the lowest points in the IRA's inglorious history." Protestant politicians renewed their call for selective detention of IRA suspects. Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, complained that Mr. Brooke had provided "the same old fudge we have been having for the last two decades in Northern Ireland." Unfortunately more people would die and the government would still not take action, Mr. Robinson said. James Kirkpatrick, a Unionist councilor in Belfast, echoed the sentiments of many of his coreligionists, saying: "There is only one piece of advice that the secretary of state for Northern Ireland needs to take on board, and that is to immediately introduce selective internment," (the imprisonment without trial of suspected terrorists). Earlier, Cardinal Cahal Daly, the Roman Catholic primate of Ireland, called for IRA members to leave the organization.

Bombing condemned Unionist (Protestant) and Nationalist (mainly Roman Catholic) politicians in Northern Ireland appeared united in condemning the bombing, which came after a series of tit-for-tat terrorist attacks by IRA and Loyalist paramilitary groups in recent weeks. "Clearly there has been a security breach in that a bomb was brought through a civilian hospital into a military area," said Richard Needham, a junior Northern Ireland minister. No warning preceeded the blast. But General Sir John Wilsey, the Army's top officer in the province said there was "no evidence of a security lapse." The truth seemed to be that the IRA had chosen a target where Army and civilian security intersected, creating a gap in the anti-terrorist shield. One wing of the Musgrave Park hospital is used for the treatment of service personnel. The rest of the hospital is for civilians. The IRA placed their bomb in an underground corridor near officers' quarters, but immediately adjoining a children's ward. Children as young as 14 months were caught in the blast, only yards from where the 20 lb. Semtex bomb was planted. Two children were injured.

'Hawks' gain upper hand The attack confirmed the fears of security force sources that the IRA is now willing to select virtually any target and attack it. The bombing also appeared to indicate that IRA "hawks," favoring continuous attacks had gained the upper hand over those who advocate a political approach. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, Brooke ordered urgent steps to be taken to review security at the hospital. The hospital is surrounded by a high security fence. The bomb had apparently been smuggled into the basement of the hospital, a security source said. The London government came under immediate pressure to take high-profile action against the IRA and other terrorist groups. Saturday's attack was the seventh IRA bombing since early September and the first to have claimed lives since an officer of the Royal Ulster Constabulary died in a mortar attack in County Londonderry on Sept. 17.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.