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Omagh memorial row underlines need to deal with the past

DECADES of violence had already left their dreadful litany of death and destruction when a dissident republican bomb exploded in Omagh on a Saturday afternoon in August 1998.

It was one of the worst atrocities committed during the Troubles, and the single deadliest in Northern Ireland.

The bomb claimed the lives of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, injured hundreds more and inflicted scars which, more than two decades on, still run deep in the Tyrone town and beyond.

It is impossible to have anything but sympathy for those bereaved by the attack.

Sadly, as with too many other atrocities perpetrated during the Troubles, the victims have been denied the justice many believe would be served by successful prosecutions of all of those responsible for the loss of life.

Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena died in the blast, has expressed his frustration at the lack of progress after more than two decades by attaching a plaque to an official bomb memorial in the town.

It includes a description of the attack as "a dissident republican terrorist car bomb", which Mr Skelton believes corrects the omission of those words from the memorial in Market Street.

"The families didn't get justice for Omagh but I think we could get the truth," he said.

There will be some who, although supportive of Mr Skelton's sentiments, will disagree with his actions in gluing the plaque to public property.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council will have to judge whether Mr Skelton's plaque should stay on the memorial or be removed.

Whatever its eventual decision - and whatever one's view of Mr Skelton's actions - the episode further highlights the enormous difficulties around how the past should be commemorated and victims remembered.

Dealing sensitively and comprehensively with the legacy of our troubled history remains of central importance if this society is to find true peace in the future.

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