Omagh inquiry call: ‘True blame must stay on terrorists’

Unionist politicians have stressed that any new inquiry into the Omagh bombing must keep in mind one simple fact: it was dissidents, not detectives, who are the true guilty parties.

Friday, 23rd July 2021, 6:03 pm
Video cam footage just after the detonation

The comments came as a judge in Belfast’s High Court said that a new investigation is necessary to examine claims that the security services could have stopped the atrocity, which claimed 31 lives including unborn twins.

The judge also called for a similar probe to be carried out at the same time in the Republic of Ireland.

The verdict represents victory in a bereaved father’s eight-year legal battle against the British Government for refusing to hold a public inquiry.

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Michael Gallagher’s 21-year-old son Aidan was among those killed in the blast.

Although the UVF’s Dublin and Monaghan quadruple car bomb attack in 1974 killed 34 people, as a single bombing Omagh was the greatest loss of life of the Troubles.

Court proceedings centred on claims that a range of intelligence could have been drawn together to prevent the bombing.

Mr Gallagher had embarked on the judicial review after the government rejected calls for a public inquiry.

A public inquiry is an investigation, convened by a minister, which has the power to compel people to provide evidence in order to establish what happened in a particular event, who is to blame, and what lessons can be learnt.

Delivering his conclusions, Mr Justice Horner said: “I am satisfied that certain grounds when considered separately or together give rise to plausible allegations that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh


“These grounds involve the consideration of terrorist activity on both sides of the border by prominent dissident terrorist republicans leading up to the Omagh bomb.

“I am therefore satisfied that the threshold under Article 2 European Convention on Human Rights to require the investigation of those allegations has been reached.”

Article 2 is often invoked by people seeking to have past Troubles cases probed again.

Simply put, it guarantees the right to life – and also contains “a procedural obligation to carry out an effective investigation” into losses of life, according to the EU.

The judge added that “any investigation will have to look specifically at the issue of whether a more proactive campaign of disruption, especially if coordinated north and south of the border, had a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing”.

The court was told that, among other bits of evidence, an FBI mole in the dissident ranks had warned Omagh could have been a target, and Mr Gallagher’s legal team said an anonymous call to police 11 days before the bombing had mentioned the town as a possible target.

Mike Nesbitt, Strangford MLA and former UUP leader, issued a statement after the judgement was handed down, which said that “the Omagh ruling requires close scrutiny, but responsibility lies at the feet of the terrorists who planted the bomb”.

He added: “My thoughts today, as always, are with the victims and survivors of the Omagh atrocity of 15th August 1998.

“Whatever detail is contained in the full ruling, the fact remains that the Omagh bomb was the work of the terrorists who chose to make it, transport it and detonate it in a market town on a busy August Saturday afternoon.“

Meanwhile East Londonderry DUP MP Gregory Campbell told the News Letter that the Omagh families have been waiting “an extraordinarily long period of time to try and get some form of closure” – yet still nobody has been held criminally accountable.

He added that “what must not happen is that the spotlight turns from investigating those who planted the bomb” and “the context in which these events happen” must be borne in mind – particularly with regard to the terrorist threat the RUC was dealing with at the time.

“Invariably, any investigations or calls for inquiries take place many years after an event,” he said.

“And they are only conducted in a courtroom or an office where professional individuals are examining, in a calculated way, the paperwork and the paper trail that has followed an atrocity.”

But this is “a completely different scenario, light years away from people who would have been on the ground”.

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