UK government decision due on holding Omagh bomb inquiry

Bereaved relatives advised Northern Ireland Secretary will make statement in House of Commons on Thursday, with expectation growing

The UK government is expected to announce on Thursday whether it will order a public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bomb, with expectation growing that an inquiry is likely.

Asked by The Irish Times if it could confirm reports the Northern Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, would make an announcement on Thursday, the Northern Ireland Office said the “Government intends to make an announcement imminently”.

It is understood bereaved relatives have been advised that Mr Heaton-Harris is set to make a statement to the House of Commons. If an inquiry is ordered, it will be a victory for campaigners who have sought an inquiry for over 20 years.

The Real IRA bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town on August 15th, 1998, killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. Hundreds more were injured.


In 2021, a High Court judge recommended that the British government should carry out a human rights-compliant investigation into alleged security failings in the lead-up to the attack.

Mr Justice Horner found it was potentially plausible the attack could have been prevented.

His ruling came after a legal challenge by a bereaved family member against the government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry.

The judge also recommended that the Government in the Republic establish its own investigation.

Mr Heaton-Harris had pledged to announce the British government’s response to the judgment early in the new year.

The Secretary of State travelled to Omagh in December to meet some of the bereaved families and visit the site of the bombing and a nearby memorial garden.

In his 2021 judgment, Justice Horner directed that a fresh investigation should take place into the atrocity.

He said any inquiry should examine the failure to act on an informer tip-off or use intelligence and surveillance evidence about previous terror attacks.

The judge said a new investigation should also examine whether a politically motivated “de-escalation” of the security approach to dissident republicans in the months before the 1998 attack resulted in crucial intelligence not being acted upon.

Mr Justice Horner said he was not going to order specifically that the UK inquiry into the Omagh bomb takes the form of a public inquiry, explaining he did not want to be “prescriptive” about the methodology.

While having no jurisdiction to order the Government south of the Border to act on the matter, the judge urged authorities there to establish their own inquiry in light of his findings.

In recent weeks the Northern Ireland Office has insisted it has been continuing to work on “next steps” following Justice Horner’s judgment. Additional reporting – PA

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times