Omagh victims backed over 20-year commemoration ‘snub’

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was amongst those killed in the Omagh bombing on August 12, 1998
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was amongst those killed in the Omagh bombing on August 12, 1998

The DUP and UUP have given their backing to Omagh bomb victims who are unhappy that neither Taoiseach Leo Varadkar nor Secretary of State Karen Bradley will attend a commemoration event this weekend.

Next Wednesday marks 20 years since the bombing, the single worst atrocity in terms of loss of life in the history of the Troubles.

Michael Gallagher’s son, Aiden, was one of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, who died in the blast.

Mr Gallagher said he was “extremely disappointed” to learn that neither the Irish premier Mr Varadkar nor the secretary of state Mrs Bradley would be in attendance tomorrow.

“Twenty years ago all these people - presidents, prime ministers and taoiseachs - were tripping over each other to be in the town,” he told the News Letter.

“It (their attendance) would have sent a strong message to the people of Omagh that we haven’t been forgotten about.

“It was the single worst atrocity on the island of Ireland, and of course it came from the Republic (the bomb). Not one person has been held to account for what happened at Omagh.”

DUP MLA Tom Buchannan said: “I fully support the families as they organise the anniversary events. It is right that Her Majesty’s government is represented.”

He added: “As the bomb was made in the Republic of Ireland some victims came from that country, I also understand why the families feel it is appropriate for the taoiseach to be represented.”

UUP Councillor Chris Smyth, who was his party’s candidate in the recent West Tyrone by-election, said: “It is important that the people in the top political positions — and this applies in the Republic of Ireland as well as the UK — are acutely aware of what happened in Omagh.”

He continued: “In terms of the taoiseach, who has been accused of interference in Northern Ireland, that would not have been the case on this occasion. There were Irish citizens killed in that bombing and he could have been there representing those people from his jurisdiction who lost their lives.”

The Irish government confirmed that the taoiseach was not attending the commemoration service tomorrow.

A spokesman told the News Letter he was “indisposed,” but refused to say more about where he was or what he was doing. The Republic’s Health Minister Simon Harris will represent the Irish government at the event.

A UK Government spokesperson said the secretary of state would be overseas, but has “ensured there will be ministerial representation”.