Remembering the victims of NI's worst atrocity, at Omagh
Today is the 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb.
Even though the Troubles had technically ended, with the Belfast agreement of earlier that year, in 1998, the Omagh blast was the worst of the many atrocities after violence flared in 1968.
A total of 29 people were murdered, including a woman pregnant with twins, and hundreds of people were injured in the Real IRA attack.
The massacre of civilians was a crime against humanity and was condemned across the political spectrum, a sign of the progress that society had already made by August 1998.
While this near universal denunciation was very welcome, it also had the effect of referring to Omagh as if it was different from what went before. It wasn’t.
It was in a long line of republican bomb massacres of civilians: Bloody Friday, Claudy, Birmingham, La Mon, Harrods, Enniskillen, Shankill all being among the larger such attacks.
Barely anyone has been brought to justice for any of these grievous crimes, although in a ground breaking development the mass murderers were at least formally named and shamed at Omagh, after a civil action.
In such atrocities, there has been a determined effort by republicans to shift the blame away from their own culpability towards the authorities for not doing enough to stop the attack or for ‘colluding’ with an informer.
Some people are fooled but most are not, and recognise that security force failings, while sometimes grave, happened within the context of the mayhem that the murderers created. Also that the use of informers was mostly a huge success.
Today we remember the Omagh dead and think of the still raw pain of their loved ones and also the injured.
Michael Gallagher made a powerful plea for political progress at Sunday’s commemoration service. A key element of any return to Stormont must be unequivocal support for tackling dissident would-be murdering thugs who would cause more heartache if it was not for society’s security structures.