Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bomb victim’s father urges political agreement at 20th anniversary service

Relatives of the dead gathered in the memorial garden where they sat opposite the reflecting pool in the Co Tyrone town on Sunday.

The father of one of the Omagh bombing victims has marked the 20th anniversary of the explosion by urging Northern Ireland’s political leaders to reach agreement so “we can move forward”.

Michael Gallagher’s son Aiden was one of the 29 people killed in the blast, who included a woman pregnant with twins, when a Real IRA car bomb ripped through Omagh on August 15, 1998.

In his speech at the inter-denominational remembrance service, Mr Gallagher also paid tribute to all the victims of the 30-year Northern Ireland conflict, including the La Mon Hotel IRA bombing which killed members of a local Collie Club in 1978.

Relatives of the dead gathered in the memorial garden where they sat opposite the reflecting pool in the Co Tyrone town on Sunday.

Friends and families of the victims, who came from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England and Spain, also laid flowers and wreaths.

The atrocity was claimed by a republican splinter group which called itself the Real IRA.

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Omagh Community Choir performed at the Memorial Gardens (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Gallagher, who is the spokesman for Omagh Support and Self Help Group, said in his closing speech that as a small province, Northern Ireland was facing its greatest challenges ahead.

“We would appeal to the political parties to seek agreement so that we can move forward,” he said.

“Working alone we can achieve very little, but in collaborative adventures we can achieve a great deal.

“We as a community have paid the highest price, let us not forget we need to make this work, showing strength, courage and leadership.”

Former Omagh Council chief executive John McKinney told the families and friends of those who were killed that they have showed “courage and leadership”.

“It was a struggle, a daily struggle, and I’m sure 20 years is more like 100 years,” he said.

“It’s also encouraging to see such a tremendous turnout, not just today, but over the last 20 years.

“That’s an indication of the spirit of the people of Omagh, the co-operation of the people of Omagh and the support they give and continue to give.

“We can all remember, the hope we had in our minds and hearts from 1995 to 1998, the hope for a better place, a hope that would grow together, a hope for reconciliation.

“Unfortunately, I regret to say, that reconciliation never really happened.

“But if some people actually looked at what is happening in this town and what happens every year, we see the diversity, the inter-denominational participation, and people coming together, then perhaps that might give some guidance.”

He added that Mr Gallagher and his group have fought for justice.

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29 people were killed in the 1998 bombing (Paul McErlane/PA)

The memorial service, Out of Darkness, included musicians, readers, singers and clergy from a number of religious denominations.

The Omagh Community Youth Choir performed a piece of music composed by its musical director, Daryl Simpson.

The choir includes Cara McGillion, 17, the daughter of Donna Marie and Garry, who were seriously injured in the attack.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton, former Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan, and Ireland’s Health Minister Simon Harris, were among those attending the event.

A song was sung for Our Special Absent Friends by Leslie Matthews, who also paid tribute to Mr Gallagher, saying he was the reason “we are all here today”.

He added: “I hope and pray that justice will be done in the future.”

Sarri Singer, who founded a supporters’ group for survivors of terrorism after she was severely injured in a bomb in Jerusalem in 2003, said that victims share an experience which “bonds them for life”.

She set up Strength to Strength which provides terror victims and families with psychological and emotional support.

She said: “I’ve come to represent victims of terrorism from around the world.

“While I know this week is not an easy week for victims and families, we are all connected and there for each other.

“To the families who have been impacted by the Omagh bomb, you are never alone and your families will never be forgotten.”

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Order of Service pamphlet for the service at the Memorial Gardens (Liam McBurney/PA)

Prayers were also said in Spanish and Irish, and a minute’s silence was held for all the victims.

Mr Gallagher also thanked the community services and groups for their help in organising the memorial.

“A communal inter-denominational worship has been well supported over the last 20 years and it makes a powerful statement about the community in Omagh,” he added.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the UK ‘s Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley were both criticised for their decision not to attend the 20th anniversary.

In a statement, Ms Bradley said: “I would like to express my deepest sympathy to those affected by the devastating Omagh bombing ahead of the 20th anniversary this week.

“I hope today’s commemoration ceremony provides comfort to all those bereaved and is marked by hope and remembrance.

“We must never forget the loss that the victims of terrorism live with each day and the remarkable courage of all those affected by such unspeakable acts.”

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