The Local Government Commissioner for Standards has confirmed an investigation has commenced into the conduct of two members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, in respect of a discussion around the extradition of Liam Campbell.
Two complaints were received in the aftermath, one from Claire Monteith whose brother was a victim of the atrocity, followed around a week later by another from the Democratic Unionist Party group.
Each complaint reached the assessed criteria and: “An investigation has commenced. The aim in each investigation is to complete it within 40 weeks of the date of receipt of the complaint.”
Both councillors have been informed of the decision.
Campbell was found civilly liable for the Omagh bomb in 1998, which claimed the lives of 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins and injured 220 others. After a 12-year legal battle, the High Court in Dublin ordered Campbell’s extradition to Lithuania where a European Arrest Warrant was issued in 2016.
This states he allegedly organised the smuggling of weapons in support of “terrorist grouping” the Real IRA between 2006 and 2007.
While extradition was to be affected on 13 July it has since been put on hold, however prior to that, a proposal by Independent Councillor Bernice Swift was rapidly put through the Policy and Resources Committee meeting.
The Chair, Councillor Stephen McCann, permitted the last-minute inclusion of the proposal, but refused to allow open debate. When some members tried, he moved into confidential business – supported by party colleagues – ordering the recording to be stopped.
Councillor Swift contended: “[Liam Campbell] is an Irish citizen and we all know the track record of the Lithuanian prison regime. Previous High Courts have contended that judgement is a breach of his human rights. We wouldn’t want to see anyone from this country being treated in such inhumane conditions.
"As an elected representative, I wish to protect the fundamental human and civil rights of anybody against abuses. I ask for support to stop that extradition and (council) write to the departments on behalf of Liam and his family.”
A vote came in 23 in favour, 14 against and one abstention.
Debate was shut down and any councillor seeking to voice dissent silenced, one of whom was reduced to tears.
The proposal caused uproar, not only in how it was dealt with in the chamber but also the voting pattern, which included, Sinn Fein, SDLP and several independents. Within hours, distraught relatives of Omagh bomb victims, who learned the news on social media, hit back.
Claire decided to report both Councillor Swift and Councillor McCann to the Commissioner as in her view the Code of Conduct had been breached.
Welcoming clarification of an investigation Claire concluded: “Omagh victims, like many, many others, have been denied so much by way of justice. I sincerely hope this hurtful and sickening incident is appropriately adjudicated upon so we can at least have respect from elected representatives.”
DUP Group Councillor Errol Thompson said: “I'm glad an investigation has been opened, It cannot be underestimated the hurt this whole episode has caused to the victims of the Omagh Bomb. Campbell was found civilly liable and for any council to give support to someone involved in terrorism is beyond the realms of decency and indeed, in this case, is disrespectful to those who lost their lives on that terrible day.
“I hope it is understood the proposal should never have come before our council chamber. As councillors we need to be focused on providing services for our district, not politicking and causing hurt by matters over which we have no jurisdiction.”