Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Omagh victim in Haass talks plea

Former US diplomat Richard Haass is chairing talks on dealing with contentious parades, flags and other issues in Northern Ireland

Governments in London and Dublin should join all-party Northern Ireland negotiations on dealing with the legacy of the past, a victim of the Omagh bomb said.

Former US diplomat Richard Haass is chairing talks on dealing with contentious parades, flags and the toxic fall out from 30 years of violence. He has a deadline of the end of this year to produce recommendations.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan died in the 1998 Omagh blast, meets other victims at Stormont today to call on politicians to agree new mechanisms to investigate past human rights abuses.

"Victims feel like they have become an unwelcome embarrassment to some politicians in Belfast, London and Dublin. I am here today at Stormont to let politicians know that we are not going away and that our call for truth and justice for what happened to our loved ones is not going away," he said.

"There are thousands of other victims and bereaved family members across Northern Ireland who want to see dealing with the past given a new, high priority by our political leaders. Haass presents an opportunity to make that new commitment, but it is crucial that London and Dublin come to the table too."

The Irish and British Governments have insisted it is for local parties to resolve continuing differences on key issues, which at times have sparked violent protest. The Labour Party has called on the Coalition to play a more active role.

The Real IRA Omagh bomb killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. Nobody has been convicted of murder.

A cross-border public inquiry into events surrounding the atrocity was ruled out by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers earlier this year and she pointed to the failure of past public inquiries to create community consensus on what happened or resolve all unanswered questions.

Danny Toland, whose father John, was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in Eglinton, Co Londonderry, in 1976, said t he murder of his father was investigated by the Historical Enquiries Team, but the family was left with more questions than answers, particularly around the extent of collusion which took place between the UDA and the security forces, which the HET could only say was "likely".

"What is now needed is a new, more independent and effective means of investigating all past cases where there are outstanding questions."

Alex Bunting, who was badly injured by an IRA booby-trap car bomb in Belfast in 1991, said nobody wanted to listen to the victims.

"The political will to grasp the nettle of the past has been missing. That now needs to change. The Haass talks are the moment when that dynamic must be reversed - that is my message to politicians here today."

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland director, said t hese are the voices to which Richard Haass must listen; the bereaved fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children.

"They are pinning their hopes on these talks now, to deliver the truth and the answers that will allow them to turn the page on this painful chapter for all of Northern Ireland," he added.

"Amnesty joins them in saying now is the time to deal with the past."

Amnesty recently published an 82-page report, Northern Ireland: Time to Deal with the Past, which calls on political leaders to establish a single overarching mechanism capable of comprehensively addressing the past, and to instigate specific independent inquiries into some of the worst atrocities.

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