Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: The Omagh victims deserve more than insensitive remarks

Editor's Viewpoint

For those bereaved or injured in the Omagh bombing, yesterday's 20th anniversary commemoration was a very emotional occasion.

It may well be the last time a formal ceremony on that scale will ever be held to remember the 31 people killed on August 15, 1998.

Those caught up in the bombing or affected by it will always remember that dreadful day.

It was the worst day of the Troubles, but also the worst day of their lives.

To them, the past 20 years have gone in a trice.

Time is said to be a great healer, but for the people of Omagh, time has given them the strength to cope with their loss but it has not healed the pain, abated the grief or brought anything near closure.

This is why two comments made yesterday struck such a painful note.

Former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan said she is now convinced that the bombing and the slaughter could have been prevented.

It has to be acknowledged that unlike most of us, she was privy to a lot of intelligence reports while working as Police Ombudsman. But at the time, she said she could not be sure the terror attack could have been prevented.

The question now - as posed by Chief Constable George Hamilton who says her claim is wrong - is what has convinced her to harden her view? There was no explanation given. In any case, it was a comment which should have been made on another day, not on a day of remembrance and acknowledgement of loss.

She, more than most, knows what those caught up in the bombing felt and must still feel. In 1977, she lost her first baby when a bomb exploded in a lecture theatre at the old Ulster Polytechnic - later to become the University of Ulster at Coleraine. She was wrong to make her comments on the bombing yesterday.

It was bound to cause hurt to some of the bereaved and injured.

It would add to their frustration at the inability of police and the legal system to charge and convict those who made, planted and set off the bomb.

So too will the comments of commentator Jude Collins who, in a blog, questioned whether the deaths in Omagh could be classified as murder.

His tenuous argument is that the bombers gave warnings - hopelessly inaccurate as it turned out - and shows they did not intend to kill.

But their actions were reckless, their warnings named the wrong location of the bomb, and anyone who plants a 500lb bomb in a crowded market town can never be given credit for phoning in a warning, accurate or not.

They are simply dicing with people's lives and 31 lost theirs as a result. There can be few who share the view that Omagh was not mass murder.

Certainly those who saw their sons, daughters, wives, husbands or even grandmother go into town that day and never come back alive must feel anger at any suggestion - on yesterday of all days - that they were not murdered.

The bombing of Omagh was a repulsive deed which brought condemnation from all quarters, from home and abroad - even from former active republicans.

What these comments show is the need for great caution when speaking about events which caused huge sorrow to other people.

We need to be sensitive to the feelings of those bereaved or injured. They always occupy the high moral ground in any argument and the rest of us should tread carefully in the foothills. Sadly the victims' feelings were trampled on unnecessarily yesterday.

Belfast Telegraph

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