Belfast Telegraph

Henry McDonald: Independent inquiry is the only route to truth about Omagh bomb

By Henry McDonald

For those of us who made it down there to Omagh on August 15, 1998, there are only the physical details which remain with you and still keep recurring.

There are the formica-topped pub tables in the street, sticky with congealed blood. There is the wail of the alarms from the blasted-out shops and the damaged cars.

There is the sight and sound of the helicopters taking off and landing in the small car park of the local hospital as the worst of the injured are airlifted to hospitals in Belfast.

And then much later, on the Sunday morning, there are the lists pasted on the walls of the leisure centre, which has been turned into a clearing house for families - many of whom had been away from town that weekend - to find out if their loved ones had died or survived.

Afterwards the seemingly endless funeral processions not only in Omagh but also across the border in Donegal, in the staunchly republican villages of east Tyrone, and in Spain.

Then the big cheeses flew in, including Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, and, much later, Bill Clinton, to pay their respects and mouth platitudes about hunting down those responsible.

Only the images survive after 18 years, while the words of the politicians and their promises that the bombers would be brought to justice have faded from memory.

After almost two decades of police investigations on both sides of the border the decision by the Public Prosecution Service to drop the charges against Seamus Daly, in a sense, marks the end of the road for the Omagh families.

Indeed, the best-known of the Omagh justice campaigners said so yesterday when he admitted that in terms of criminal prosecutions this was indeed "the end of the line".

There have been many false dawns and some dubious security decisions made since that fateful day in August 1998.

We had an agent who was in Garda protective custody with inside knowledge of the Real IRA in the South whom detectives in the North were never able to use or properly interview.

We had allegations that RUC Special Branch, in the run-up to the bombing, appeared more interested in enhancing the reputation of its agents inside the terror group than in thwarting the plot.

We had case after case collapse due to unreliable witnesses and a lack of forensic evidence to link anyone to the biggest single atrocity of the Troubles.

Omagh not only stands as the worst loss of lives in a terrorist attack since 1969, but also as a monument to policing failures on a colossal scale. Which brings into play the families' demand for a cross-border, fully independent inquiry into the events leading up to and after the Omagh bomb.

In the light of what happened yesterday in Ballymena Magistrates Court, the onus must surely be principally on the British Government and David Cameron in particular to support such an inquiry.

And whenever and whoever is elected Taoiseach after the chaos and uncertainty of the Republic's general election, the new Irish premier should join Cameron in that call.

It is also election time soon here in Northern Ireland, and that should entail every political party seeking re-election to the Assembly to promise to back a cross-party motion demanding an independent tribunal into Omagh.

After all the promises made and the platitudes mouthed, it is the least the powers in London, Dublin and Belfast can do.

Belfast Telegraph


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