Northern Ireland secretary orders independent inquiry into 1998 Omagh bombing

The UK government ordered an independent inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris made a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday confirming he intends to set up the inquiry in response to a court ruling ordering the government to set up some form of inquiry.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the Real IRA bombing, accepted the legal challenge which resulted in the judge ordering the state to act.

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.

Heaton-Harris explained that she had heard representations from families affected by the atrocity along with other factors, including their independence, the cost to the public purse and how best to “allay broader public concern.”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Heaton-Harris said: “I intend to set up an independent legal inquiry into the Omagh bombing.

“I have informed Mr. Gallagher and members of the Omagh Self-Help and Support Group, as well as representatives of Families Moving On of this decision.

“The investigation will focus specifically on the four grounds that the court found to have given rise to plausible arguments that the attack could have been prevented.

“The investigation will also need to take into account the findings of previous investigations to avoid duplication.”

Omagh bomb activist Michael Gallagher in Omagh on the day an inquest into the bombing was announced (Oliver McVeigh (PA)

Heaton-Harris said she accepted that this is a “significant” decision.

Mr. Gallagher welcomed the announcement.

“The Secretary of State has given us everything we have asked for, and we are very grateful for that,” he said.

“I’m still settling in, to be honest I think it’s going to be a long time to accept the fact that hopefully we’ll get the answers we need and we can move on.”

Gallagher said the announced investigation amounted to a full public inquiry.

“My understanding is that it is a public inquiry, it is a judicial inquiry with investigative powers and that is exactly what we wanted,” he said.

“This is not a case of shifting blame away from those responsible – these were the criminal terrorists who planned, prepared and dropped this bomb on Omagh. What we are seeing are the failures of the people who are there to protect us.”

He said that reliving the events in Omagh through the investigation would be “difficult” and “painful” for the families, but added: “If we don’t have this process, for the rest of our lives we’ll be wondering ‘What if’.”

Labor welcomed the decision to open the inquiry, saying the Republic of Ireland had “a moral obligation to launch its own inquiry”.

But Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary Peter Kyle added that the move was at odds “with the Government’s general approach to legacy issues” as set out in the Northern Ireland Issues (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. ).

He said: “The Secretary of State has put the families of Omagh at the center of today’s decision. He worries me that other victims of atrocities during the riots are looking on and wondering why their loved ones are not being similarly treated.”

Heaton-Harris responded: “I really think we’re being consistent. What has happened is that for hundreds if not thousands of families, 25 years since the riots stopped and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement came into force, there has been no justice and no information about what happened to their loved ones in that period of time. .

“Investigations may have come and gone, but to no avail for those families.

British Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

“And what the Legacy Bill hopes to do, and as he knows, I’m trying to improve the Bill as much as possible, try to make sure that we get the Legacy Bill to exactly the right place so that it can provide those families, if possible, at least some information about what happened to their loved ones at this time.”

Elsewhere in the debate, DUP MP Jim Shannon also called on the Irish government to open an investigation into the bombing, as fellow party members Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee and Lord Dodds of Duncairn watched from the gallery.

Shannon said the bombing was “planned, assembled and transported from within the Republic of Ireland”, adding: “Would the Secretary of State agree that unless there is such an investigation, it is unlikely that the whole truth about what happened that day is known?” brought to light?”

Heaton-Harris told MPs that the UK government could not force the Irish government to open an investigation.

But he added: “We’re talking to each other about a wide range of different topics in a much more constructive way than we have for a decent time, and I know we will; Actually, some of the discussions about things like this can be pretty hard on both sides, but it’s being done in a respectful way and I know both sides want to do what’s best for all of the people we represent.”

Meanwhile, Alliance MP Stephen Farry (North Down) urged the minister to ensure the terms of reference for the inquiry had “flexibility” should they need to be extended.

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