Hotel Attacks

14 October 2015, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, UK

On 9 October, Londonderry police confirmed that a suspicious item reportedly found in the parking lot of the Waterfoot Hotel was, in fact, a bomb, said the BBC. The Irish Times says that the device was “concealed in a hedge beside the Waterfoot Hotel.” The Waterfoot Hotel website is here.

The hotel was evacuated just before noon, and the entrance was cordoned off, reports the Derry Journal.

Police initially figured the item in question was a hoax bomb, but upon making it inert via a controlled explosion, they realized that it was a real explosive device.

The presumed target was a police-recruiting event being held at the Waterfoot. A school formal was planned for the hotel that night – it was cancelled – and a wedding was scheduled for the next day, Saturday. There was also supposed to be a protest at the hotel on Saturday by a republican “pressure group” called the Republican Network for Unity (RNU).

Police blamed “dissident republicans” for the bomb, a term commonly associated with groups such as Óglaigh na hÉireann (Real IRA splinter group), the RNU, the New IRA, and similar organizations.

Sinn Féin, formerly the political wing of the Provisional IRA (PIRA) and now part of the political process, asserted that the responsible party had “nothing whatsoever to offer the people of Derry,” reports the BBC.

Sinn Féin went further by commenting on the potential harm to the hotel industry, asserting: “Not only have [the bombers] brought disruption to the city, they have also endangered the safety of hotel staff, guests, customers and passers by.”

The Belfast Telegraph says that Garvan O’Doherty, owner of the hotel, was forced to shut down the recruiting event, even though police wanted to continue with it.

It was a very difficult decision for me,” O’Doherty told the press, “but given that the device was viable, I felt I had to put my staff and customers’ safety first and had to cancel the event.”

O’Doherty additionally said that he was a supporter of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which brought an end to the war in Northern Ireland (1966-1998) between the PIRA (and like Catholic republican groups,) and the British government (plus local Protestant loyalist groups.)

New groups such as the Óglaigh na hÉireann have since rekindled the conflict, which has included several attacks on hotels.

“…We have to encourage the dissidents to come up with other ways to get their point across without the use of violence and I am prepared to work with the dissidents to achieve that,” said O’Doherty.

The Waterfoot bomb demonstrates that hotels can sometimes be targeted for their participation in community events, particularly if the event in question – in this case a police recruitment drive – clashes with the ideology and end goals of terrorists and insurgents. And as Sinn Féin said, this line of targeting puts hotel staff, patrons, and even passers by in danger.

The Waterfoot case is also a reminder that splinter groups can linger in what are generally considered post conflict zones. Insurgencies rarely end cleanly because cease-fires and even intricately planned peace treaties like the GFA don’t always satisfy the most radical ideologues, in this case, probably Óglaigh na hÉireann. This group still wants Northern Ireland completely integrated with Ireland, and it rejects the increased republican political integration stipulated by the GFA.

As an aside, the British government on 19 October published a report titled, “Paramilitary Groups in Northern Ireland,” which asserted that old and new republican groups remained active and, despite the GFA, suggested that the war in Northern Ireland might resume if the peace was not handled correctly by both sides.

From a hotel security point of view, this episode shows that hotel owners have the final say in the safety of their staff and patrons. Even after the police had destroyed the bomb and secured the venue, the owner still denied the police recruiting drive from happening on his property. He was not convinced the danger had passed.

In one respect, this can be seen as letting terrorism win, and in another respect, this can be seen as a hotel owner avoiding liabilities related to possible bomb injuries, deaths, and physical damage. At the same time, the hotel owner did not shy away from offering dialogue with the bombers as an attempt to assuage the situation, which is counter to completely removing self and property from contact with a demonstrated hostile group.

Ultimately, the Waterfoot Hotel bomb, coupled with the many other attacks that have recently happened in Northern Ireland, means that a degree of insurgent violence has returned to this area, and that hotels are on the target list, particularly if they engage in activities counter to extremist republicanism. Hotel security in Northern Ireland should therefore be increased to the appropriate degree.

Sources and further reading:

Police jobs fair day is cancelled by hotelier after bomb,” Belfast Telegraph, 14 October 2015.

Derry hotel owner cancels police event over safety concerns,” Irish Times, 13 October 2015.

PSNI say object found in grounds of hotel in Londonderry was a bomb,” BBC, 10 October 2015.

Bomb scare at Waterfoot Hotel,” Derry Journal, 9 October 2015.

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