Threat to Northern Ireland prison officers to be 'speedily' reviewed


The threat to prison officers in Northern Ireland is to be speedily reviewed after last week's bomb attack, Stormont's Justice Minister said.

A group calling itself the New IRA claimed responsibility when a warder was injured in Belfast.

The married father of three, 52, required surgery after an explosive device detonated under the van he was driving on Friday morning. His injuries were not as severe as first feared.

Justice Minister David Ford said: "He is the kind of citizen that this society needs, he is the kind of person who is of benefit to the public service, as well as to the wider community, and he is a fine person who had no reason to be attacked."

Four people including a woman have been arrested.

Mr Ford added: "The director general (Sue McAllister) has made it clear that she has requested an updated assessment of the security threat to her staff.

"I have no doubt that that will be supplied speedily and that the police service will continue to support prison officers as best they can."

The attack happened in the Hillsborough Drive area off Woodstock Road, a predominantly loyalist area in the east of the city, just after 7am on Friday.

The victim, a long-serving officer based at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre in south Belfast who works as a trainer for new recruits to the Northern Ireland Prison Service, had just left home to drive to work. His condition has been described as stable.

In a statement to the BBC, the New IRA said the officer was targeted because he was involved in training other guards at HMP Maghaberry, near Lisburn.

A spokesman said the officer was one of a number on a list of potential targets and the attack arose from a dispute over the treatment of dissident republican inmates.

One Stormont Assembly member has claimed they are trying to return Northern Ireland's high-security prison to conditions similar to the old Maze Prison, where republicans won a series of concessions and famously went on hunger strike.

The New IRA claimed to have used the plastic explosive Semtex and a commercial detonator in the attack.

Mr Ford said the victim was putting the community first and the entire prison service was determined to stand up to those who carried out the attack.

"He is an officer who has a significant number of years' service who is playing a key part in the Prison Service.

"He is also somebody who is active in the community.

"His service to the community is not just when he is wearing a prison officer's uniform, though it is very significant when he wears a uniform, but he is also active elsewhere."

He added: "He is a person who was doing his duty in uniform as well as being an active citizen elsewhere."

Following the blast, police commanders expressed fears that it could be the first of a number of dissident attacks to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising, when Ireland rebelled from Britain.

Detectives believe a "significant terrorist hide" uncovered over the weekend at a Co Antrim country park may have belonged to a dissident republican group.

A series of explosive devices have been recovered elsewhere in Northern Ireland.