Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Two decades on, the pain and anguish of Omagh raw as ever

Editor's Viewpoint

On this date exactly 20 years ago on a beautiful sunny day dissidents committed one of the most heinous crimes in the inglorious annals of republican terrorism. A total of 31 people, including two unborn babies, died on the streets of Omagh when a car bomb was detonated as shoppers went about their business.

In the intervening two decades Omagh has become a byword for all that is evil about terrorism. The bombing came just four months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which was meant to signal the end of conflict and pave the way for a new Northern Ireland.

Instead it merely underlined the fanaticism of those whose lust for killing, maiming and destruction cannot be sated.

Even after the worldwide revulsion that fell on the dissidents' heads, they seek the opportunity to kill as they did again and again after Omagh.

Omagh also ticked all the boxes of terrorist incidents. The victims ranged from the unborn to those in the autumn of their lives and included schoolchildren and students, teenagers, mothers and, a grandmother. Only 14 of those killed were aged over 21.

The grief was not confined to Northern Ireland, with victims including Spanish students, an English schoolboy whose family had moved to Donegal for a better quality of life, young boys from Buncrana and, of course, a wide range of people from the town and surrounding area.

In one dreadful moment the bombing summed up both the horror and futility of terrorism. The micro terror groups who refused to accept that the days of violence were over must surely acknowledge that their actions - especially at Omagh - make their green-tinted goal of a united Ireland achieved by force undesirable to anyone with a shred of humanity.

The final box ticked by the Omagh bomb is one that is shared by thousands of bereaved and injured people - the lack of justice. Within a very short period of time a list of suspects became public knowledge but none could be convicted of the mass murder.

Uniquely, there was a victory of sorts. A number of families brought a civil action against a number of suspects and won a court order for £1.6m from them. Not a penny of that has ever been recovered from those suspects but the quest to get them to pay up something goes on. The increasingly vain hope that some evidence will be found to bring the suspects before a criminal court and into jail still exists, but like so many others it is eroded day after day.

The question that many find impossible to answer is why after what happened in Omagh the communities in Northern Ireland could not find enough common ground - even in detestation of violence - to create the new province envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement.

Power-sharing worked sporadically but today, as we remember a vile act, the province is more than 500 days without a functioning administration and the political landscape is fractured right down the middle between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Brexit has added a further toxic layer, even diminishing the trust and respect built up between the UK and Irish Governments.

Meanwhile, most of those suspected of carrying out the Omagh bombing are walking about free. Two suspects have died, but the rest feel untouchable and the frustration, anger and, in some cases, resignation of those bereaved and injured in the Tyrone market town continue to fester, keeping the pain as keen as 20 years ago.

Belfast Telegraph


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