Omagh bombing: Higgins urges vigilance on Belfast Agreement

Victims' families will gather in Co Tyrone town to mark 20th anniversary of atrocity

On August 15th, 1998, a dissident republican car bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone market town of Omagh. The attack claimed the lives of 29 people and injured more than 200 others. Footage: Reuters

 

President Michael D Higgins has led calls for a “culture of peace” as Omagh on Wednesday marks the 20th anniversary of the single worst atrocity of the Troubles in terms of fatalities.

Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, died when a massive car bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone town on August 15th, 1998, just months after the signing of the Belfast Agreement.

“As we recall with deep sadness the deaths and the injuries at Omagh, we should use this moment to recognise the many ways in which we are all connected and the many ways in which we have sought to make peaceful progress over the last two decades,” Mr Higgins said.

“May we use this anniversary as we honour the victims, to re-emphasise the importance of building a culture of peace and tolerance on our island,” he said.

“While the implementation of the Good Friday agreement remains a work which requires our continued vigilance and commitment, its principles – so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people – represent the best hopes for the future of our shared island,” he said.

Family, relatives and victims gather at an interdenominational service at the Memorial Gardens in Omagh to remember the Omagh bombing 20 years on. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Family, relatives and victims gather at an interdenominational service at the Memorial Gardens in Omagh to remember the Omagh bombing 20 years on. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Twenty years on, the Stormont power-sharing administration, which was a centrepiece of the Belfast Agreement, is suspended with little sign of its restoration.

No convictions

Relatives of the victims will gather in the town on Wednesday afternoon for a short ceremony led by Omagh Churches Forum.

It will be followed by the ringing of a bell 32 times to reflect the 31 lives lost and an additional peal to remember all who have lost their lives through similar atrocities.

Those scars, those memories, those losses will never go away. Many people continue to limp through life because of the brutal actions of others

The victims included Protestants and Catholics, tourists from Spain and others on a day trip from the South. The atrocity was claimed by a republican splinter group calling itself the Real IRA.Two decades later, nobody has been convicted of murder.

Catholic Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown held a special Mass in the town on Tuesday evening.

He told parishioners at the Sacred Heart Church: “Your memorial here is a monument to all the innocent who were torn from us by violence in our community.

“The bomb that killed young and old also scarred so many others in body and in mind. Those scars, those memories, those losses will never go away. Many people continue to limp through life because of the brutal actions of others,” he said.

“Combatants do fighting but it is mostly civilians who do the dying,” he said.

Protecting peace

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “The pain of Omagh families and victims should serve us with an important reminder that the road to peace is worth protecting at all costs.”

He said the resilience of all affected provided the “ultimate example” that reconciliation and agreement in the face of adversity was always possible.

Wednesday’s commemoration will begin at 2.55pm at the site of the bombing on Market Street.

The bell will stop tolling at 3.10pm, the time the bomb exploded.

The commemoration will feature a song, then people will be offered a flower petal to scatter into a river or a pond at a nearby memorial garden.

Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley said it had been one of Ireland’s darkest days and should stand as an eternal reminder of the constant need to build on progress made.

– PA