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Monday 19 March 2018

No public inquiry into Omagh bombing

The scene of the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people
The scene of the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people
29 people lost their lives in the Omagh bombing

Michael McHugh

THE British Government today said it had ruled out a public inquiry into the 1998 Real IRA Omagh bombing which killed 29 people.

The Co Tyrone blast was one of the worst atrocities in the Northern Ireland conflict and relatives have called for an all-Ireland probe into whether the authorities could have done more to prevent it.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "I do not believe that there are sufficient grounds to justify a further review or inquiry above and beyond those that have already taken place or are ongoing."

Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, died when the dissident republican car bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone town just months after the signing of the historic Good Friday Agreement peace accord in Northern Ireland.

While no one has been criminally convicted of the crime, four republicans were found liable for the atrocity in a landmark civil case taken by some of the bereaved relatives and ordered to pay £1.6 million compensation.

Last month families of some of the victims outlined details of an independent report they commissioned into alleged intelligence failings on both sides of the border in the lead up to the atrocity and with the subsequent criminal investigations.

Ms Villiers said it was not an easy decision to make and all views were carefully considered.

"I believe that the ongoing investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is the best way to address any outstanding issues relating to the police investigation into the Omagh attack.

"The fact remains that the Real IRA carried out the bombing in Omagh on 15 August 1998, murdering 29 people and injuring many more. Responsibility is theirs alone. I sincerely hope that the ongoing police investigation will bring to justice those responsible for this brutal crime.

"I have met representatives of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, as have a number of my predecessors as Secretary of State. I have offered to meet them again to explain my decision further if they wish."

Representations received by the Secretary of State showed there was support for an inquiry among a number of survivors and families of those killed in the bomb, but others felt that a further inquiry would cause them considerable trauma.

All these views were weighed against other factors, including the series of previous inquiries into the Omagh bomb and the current investigation by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the NIO said.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden, 21, was among the victims, condemned the decision, describing the reasons given by Ms Villiers for ruling out a public inquiry as "trivial".

He told Sky News: "Should we be denied truth and justice because other people don't want it?"

Referring to his belief that the bomb attack could have been prevented, he said: "The reality is that Aiden need not have died."

He added: "Both the British and Irish governments failed to protect the human rights of those people."

And he said that victims' families would be mounting a legal challenge to the decision by Ms Villiers.

He said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the decision.

"I think it's important to note that this is a Government who are actually holding other governments to account over human rights abuses," he said

"Last week they wanted permissions from Parliament to go to war, or to launch attacks on Syria. Over a year ago we gave this Government a report which showed that state agencies had failed and 31 people had died and 250 were injured unnecessarily."

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