Belfast Telegraph

Omagh bombing victims' relatives accuse politicians of anniversary 'snub'

Families hit out at failure of Secretary of State and Taoiseach to attend final official commemoration of Troubles’ worst atrocity

By Claire McNeilly

Relatives of those killed in the Omagh bombing have accused the Taoiseach and Secretary of State of a snub after they turned down invitations to services marking the 20th anniversary of the atrocity.

Two events will be held in the Co Tyrone town, on Sunday and next Wednesday, to remember the victims of the 1998 massacre.

However, Leo Varadkar and Karen Bradley have already declined invitations to join families of the bereaved at a commemoration on Sunday, prompting anger and hurt among some victims' loved ones.

In his role as Irish premier, Mr Varadkar has been a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland, and last year he attended a memorial to mark 30 years since the Enniskillen bombing.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden (21) died in the blast along with 28 other people, including a woman pregnant with twins, said the Omagh families have been "snubbed and disrespected".

"There is a sense that Omagh has been bypassed or forgotten about," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I'm delighted the Taoiseach went to Enniskillen but there's a huge problem for both the Irish and British governments around Omagh because they are trying to avoid us.

"Mr Varadkar and Mrs Bradley have both attended other events in Northern Ireland, which I respect, but it is extremely disrespectful that they cannot find time to attend the 20th anniversary commemoration, given that Omagh was the worst atrocity of the Troubles.

"It was the first atrocity in peace time. When it happened we had taoisigh and presidents and prime ministers clamouring to go to Omagh yet, here we are, on a landmark anniversary 20 years on and neither the Taoiseach nor the Secretary of State have opted to come. Both governments have failed spectacularly to get their priorities right here."

This year will be the last time the anniversary of the Omagh bombing will be marked annually for the foreseeable future, making their decision not to come all the more puzzling for Mr Gallagher.

Those expected to attend Sunday's 3pm event at the town's Memorial Garden include former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and the Duke of Abercorn.

The UK Government will be represented by a senior Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official, while Irish enterprise minister Heather Humphreys will attend on behalf of the Republic's government.

Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena also died at Omagh, said it was a "double snub" that shows the two politicians "don't care about the Omagh victims".

"I'm very disappointed the Secretary of State isn't coming to the commemoration on Sunday," the 63-year-old said.

"I thought she was and I was hoping to finally get a chance to talk to her face-to-face.

"There is no reason I would find acceptable for Karen Bradley not being there on Sunday."

Mr Skelton said Mr Varadkar's decision not to come "shows that the southern government doesn't give a hoot about victims".

"Leo Varadkar attended a memorial in Enniskillen last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the bombing. If he's able to do that, then he should be in Omagh this weekend," he said.

A NIO spokeswoman said Karen Bradley expressed "her deepest sympathy to all those affected by the Omagh bombing", adding that she will be abroad this weekend.

"The Secretary of State has engaged closely with a wide range of people affected by the Troubles," she said.

"Unfortunately she is unable to attend Sunday's service as she is overseas, but has ensured there will be ministerial representation and intends to arrange to meet those affected in the near future."

She added: "NIO officials have met Omagh victims on several occasions.

"The Secretary of State will continue to work closely with all victims' groups as the consultation comes to an end."

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the Taoiseach "is not in a position to attend".

"A senior Government Minister will represent the Irish Government at the 20th Anniversary of the Omagh Bombing Memorial Service this Sunday," he added.

"The Omagh bombing in August 1998 was one of the most evil acts ever to be carried out on this island, which had a devastating impact on so many people.

"The Irish Government's deepest sympathies are with all the families who have been affected by this atrocity.

"The Irish Government is committed to working with the people of Omagh to pursue every avenue to get to the truth to ensure that those who perpetrated this atrocity are brought to justice."

Belfast Telegraph

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