Belfast Telegraph

Only full public inquiry can give Omagh families answers they've waited 18 years to hear

Secrecy over 1998 massacre only fuels fears of cover-up by intelligence services, says Alban Maginness

Recently, the Lord Chief Justice criticised the failure of our local administration to provide the necessary funding for dealing with inquests related to the Troubles.

With unusual frankness for the highest judge in the land, Sir Declan Morgan spoke directly about helping the families of the deceased find the truth about their loved ones' deaths.

Clearly, he saw the need to help those so directly impacted by the Troubles to find some solace by uncovering the truth about their deaths.

Hopefully, the Executive will listen carefully to his unusual public intervention and provide the necessary funding for the timely processing of these inquests. The time for action has long passed and the playing of party politics should cease.

Similarly, a recent book by Hugh Orde, the former chief constable, and Des Rea, former chair of the Policing Board, entitled Bear In Mind These Dead, has a similar resonance in relation to the greatest outrage of the Troubles - the Omagh bomb in August 1998.

The book is an exhaustive chronicle of the police investigation and the relationship between the Policing Board and the police over this issue.

It provides a point-by-point account of the whole Omagh investigation saga and presents a valuable historical reservoir for current and future researchers.

The book is a compendium of fact and is wonderfully sequenced, but does not attempt to allocate blame.

However, there is no doubt that the search for truth and justice for the Omagh victims' families and survivors has been a difficult and, at times, flawed process from the very outset of the investigation into this despicable crime.

That search for truth and justice continues, and this book reminds all of us of their continuing plight. The Omagh victims' families would argue that the truth has not yet been fully revealed. Central to their plight is the crucial question of whether the Omagh bombing was preventable.

While everyone knows and accepts that the Real IRA was responsible - and publicly admitted responsibility - for this ghastly act of terror, it was two years afterwards that it was claimed by Kevin Fulton, a former British agent in the IRA, that the bombing could have been prevented had the police acted upon information that he had allegedly provided to them.

This led to the subsequent investigation by the Police Ombudsman and a public spat between the then Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, and the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, in respect of the Omagh bomb investigation.

The Ombudsman's report - although it did not fully back Fulton - was, nonetheless, very critical of the police and, naturally, exacerbated the feelings of the Omagh relatives, who felt let down by failings in the police investigation.

It also highlighted the need for full co-operation between the police and the Garda, given the very obvious cross-border nature of the bombing (the bomb was transported from Monaghan across the border and planted in Omagh).

To date, despite the charging of and the initial steps in the prosecution of Seamus Daly, there has been no successful criminal prosecution in Northern Ireland.

There has, of course, been a successful civil action, but that was carried out on a separate standard of legal proof to the proof that is required in a criminal case.

Naturally, given the grievous injustice in this incident, the relatives are rightly frustrated by their failure to achieve justice.

While it is understandable that the authorities cannot force a successful prosecution if there is insufficient evidence available to them, it is grossly unacceptable for the Government to refuse to hold a public inquiry into the Real IRA attack.

Michael Gallagher, father of one of the victims, Aidan Gallagher, has campaigned indefatigably over many years to bring about such an inquiry.

And, in January 2015, the High Court ruled that he had the legal right to challenge the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the bombing.

However, in January 2016, the London Government indicated that they were seeking a Closed Material Procedure in advance of Mr Gallagher's legal challenge.

This is on the basis of that elastic concept "national security", but as soon as you hear that much-abused term, you should immediately wonder: what is the Government seeking to conceal from the ordinary citizen? Why the state secrecy in this most sensitive of cases?

Of course, the whole murky world of intelligence sources and intrigue springs to mind and would naturally fuel the suspicions of ordinary people, like the courageous Michael Gallagher and his Omagh colleagues.

Whatever excuses the Government gives, it is clear that its decision simply reawakens suspicions of an intelligence agency cover-up in this important case.

Surely, it is time to stop letting down the Omagh victims and give them what they deserve - that is the truth.

And the best way of doing that is through a public inquiry.

Belfast Telegraph


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