Decision pending on public inquiry into Omagh bombing

The government is expected to announce a decision to order a public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing at a later date.

Relatives of the victims of the atrocity have been informed that Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will make a statement in the House of Commons.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said: “The Government intends to make an announcement imminently.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons on Thursday (Brian Lawless/PA)

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

In 2021, a High Court judge recommended that the UK government carry out a human rights-compliant inquiry into alleged security lapses in the run-up to the attack.

Judge Horner found that it was potentially plausible that the attack could have been prevented.

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

The judge also recommended that the Irish government set up its own inquiry.

Heaton-Harris had promised to announce the government’s response to the ruling early in the new year.

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

Omagh bombing investigation

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Omagh bomb, standing in the Memorial Garden in the Co Tyrone town dedicated to the victims of the atrocity (PA)

In his 2021 sentencing, Judge Horner ordered a new inquiry into the Real IRA atrocity.

He said any investigation must look at a failure to act on a whistleblower or use intelligence and surveillance evidence about previous terror attacks.

The judge said a new inquiry should also examine whether a politically motivated “diminishment” of security focus toward dissident Republicans in the months before the 1998 attack resulted in crucial intelligence not being acted on.

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

While he does not have jurisdiction to order the Irish government to act on the matter, the judge also urged the authorities there to set up their own investigation in light of his findings.

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