Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anama.
An IRA bomb explodes in Omagh, Co Tyrone killing twenty-nine people, including a pregnant woman with twins. As a result of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the people of the north of Ireland thought they had seen the end of violence. However, a tiny breakaway group of IRA dissidents who called themselves The Real IRA thought otherwise and continued the campaign to rid the north of Ireland of “British occupation.” The events of Omagh were a microcosm of how both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries operated over the previous thirty years. A tiny minority intent on destruction provided poor telephoned bomb warnings to the authorities. In the confusion, the victims were unknowingly shepherded close to the car that contained 500 lbs of explosives. The victims never had a chance.
It has been alleged that the British, Irish and American intelligence agencies had information which could have prevented the bombing; most of which came from double agents inside the Real IRA. This information was not given to the local police; the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 2008 it was revealed that British intelligence agency GCHQ was monitoring conversations between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.
A 2001 report by the Police Ombudsman said that the RUC’s Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings and slammed the RUC’s investigation of the bombing. The RUC has obtained circumstantial and coincidental evidence against some suspects, but it has not come up with anything to convict anyone of the bombing. Colm Murphy was tried, convicted, and then released after it was revealed that the Gardaí forged interview notes used in the case. Murphy’s nephew Sean Hoey was also tried and found not guilty. In June 2009, the victims’ families won a GB£1.6 million civil action against four defendants. In April 2014, Seamus Daly was charged with the murders of those killed, however, the prosecutions case collapsed.
Bereaved families have issued a writ against PSNI chief constable George Hamilton seeking damages and a declaration their human rights have been breached, focusing on what happened after the car bomb and why no-one has been convicted of murder. The PSNI said they “would respond in due course.” The writ is the latest legal challenge in the families’ two-decade quest for justice.
The Omagh bombing inflicted the greatest, single loss of life of any terror atrocity in the history of the Northern Ireland Troubles. Police ombudsman reports have raised serious concerns about the police investigation. They said evidential opportunities were missed, that intelligence information was not shared and there were inexplicable delays in arresting suspects. A PSNI spokesman said of the writ: “Once received, we will take time to consider the contents and respond in due course.”
The families are also pursuing judicial review proceedings against the government’s decision not to hold a public inquiry into the attack. Among the dead were family members, one family lost members from three generations, and close friends, and a number of tourists from the Republic of Ireland and Spain. One woman who died was pregnant with twins. There were hundreds of people injured some of whom lost limbs or their sight.
It was later learnt that there had been a misleading phone warning and the RUC directed people towards the bomb rather than away from it. The code word used was that of the rIRA, a breakaway group of dissident members from the Provisional IRA who disagreed with the political direction being taken by the Sinn Féin leadership. There was outrage and shock across the whole population of Northern Ireland. Many people expressed the hope that this incident would mark a turning point in the conflict.