Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bombing gave our victims' support group impetus, says SEFF chair

By Gillian Halliday

The chairman of a victims' support group has recalled how a planned meeting to form the organisation took place just hours after the Omagh bomb atrocity unfolded.

Eric Brown helped found the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) with two friends who gathered at his then home in Lisnaskea on the evening of August 15, 1998.

It was the same day a massive car bomb planted by dissident republicans exploded in Omagh, killing 29 people - including a woman pregnant with unborn twins.

As victims' relatives gathered in Omagh to mark the 20th anniversary, yesterday also marked two decades of SEFF, which has helped more than 1,100 people affected by terrorism across Northern Ireland and beyond.

Reflecting on the group's beginnings, Mr Brown revealed how the bomb attack, which was carried out by the Real IRA, made them even more determined to get SEFF up and running.

"What happened in Omagh gave us impetus," revealed the Co Fermanagh man.

"We knew what we had to do.

"The meeting had been planned prior to that, a week to 10 days earlier. It was a coincidence. It wasn't a formal meeting. Omagh was reflected on and it was the main subject of what was talked about.

"Like everybody, we were in shock.

"Across the country, people were trying to find out news.

"At that stage, people didn't know the full horror of it all, the full extent of it, some people had yet to be still properly identified."

The victims' campaigner said, like everybody on that fateful day, he can still remember clearly what he was doing when he first learned of the bombing, which was the single worst act of terrorism to take place during the Troubles.

"I had been out with some guys working to get some pens ready to rear some game," he explained. "We stopped to get something to eat and the news broke. We were shocked."

He said everyone at the meeting wanted to do something positive in light of the horrific event.

"There was an impetus; here we are, this is still going on and we need to try and do something, and in the early days, it was case of just trying to do something," said Mr Brown.

SEFF, which marked its own 20th anniversary with a service of thanksgiving on Tuesday, has also offered support to those who had been affected by Omagh over the years, Mr Brown added.

"We have members now who were there on the day of the Omagh bombing and it's as painful for them now as it was on the actual event," he said.

"The hurt never leaves and they will take it to their grave."

Omagh remembers, pages 6-7

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