Disappointed Omagh families have no intention of going away
Next step is to take legal action to try to compel an official change of heart
Michael Gallagher (right), whose son Aiden (21), was killed in the Omagh bomb attack with Stanley McCombe who lost his wife Ann, speaking in Belfast on the decision by the British Government not to hold a public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
The resolve of the Omagh families who for years have been pleading for a cross-Border inquiry into the 1998 Real IRA bombing was severely tested by Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers’s blunt decision to reject that request today.
But Michael Gallagher, father of Aiden who was killed in the blast, made clear today the families are not going away.
Yet, this is a big blow for those of the families still determined to find some sort of justice for the loved ones who were killed and for the 250 people maimed and injured in the attack.
Since Bloody Sunday the British government has been adamant there will be no more expensive inquiries.
Ms Villiers by her decision has left it easier for Dublin to also rule out the prospect of a cross-Border inquiry. How could it be feasible were only one government, and its security agencies, cooperating with such an investigation?
US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is coming to Belfast on Tuesday to chair all-party talks aimed at devising a blueprint to deal with parades, flags and the past. Omagh is the past and perhaps the governments intend that it is for Dr Haass to embrace that 1998 atrocity within his remit.
Mr Gallagher and others of the families have taken knock after knock as they have pursued the truth for the past 15 years, whether that be the failure of the initial RUC investigation, the complaints about whether the Garda could have done more south of the Border, the alleged failures of the police and security agencies including MI5 and the FBI to share vital intelligence, and the ultimate failure to convict any of those responsible.
The families however persevered. If, trying with all their might, they couldn’t get the killers convicted in the criminal courts they would get them in the civil courts. That led to a long legal battle with many up and downs and twists and turns but there was a considerable degree of success at the end.
Damages of £1.6 million have been awarded against these men. Whether a penny of that figure is ever paid over is problematic but, according to the families and their legal representatives, life will be made “as difficult as possible for” the four as that money is pursued.
So, it’s back to the courts. Michael Gallagher said he was disappointed but not surprised at Ms Villiers decision.
He said the families would now take court action to try to compel the British and Irish governments to hold an inquiry.
Their chief weapon is a report they commissioned, most of which remains confidential but which the governments received more than a year ago, which contends the bombing could have been prevented had intelligence services on both sides of the Border shared crucial information in the run-up to the attack.
The line from Mr Gallagher and from many of the families is that all they can do is keep on going on, and that’s what they intend to do. Perseverance has served them well in the past and they hope it will do so again.