Northern Ireland

Work underway to appoint chair for new Omagh bomb inquiry

Omagh bomb campaigner Michael Gallagher on Campsie Street, close to the site of the 1998 bombing
Omagh bomb campaigner Michael Gallagher on Campsie Street, close to the site of the 1998 bombing

WORK is underway to appoint the chair for a new independent inquiry into the Omagh bombing, the High Court has heard.

Legal action brought by a father bereaved by the Real IRA atrocity was adjourned for four weeks due to the ongoing process.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among 29 people killed in the August 1998 attack, has judicially reviewed the UK Government over alleged delays and failures to act on a ruling that a fresh investigation is required.

But last month Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris announced a statutory inquiry will be established to examine if the bombing could have been prevented.

In court on Wednesday both sides consented to the legal challenge being put on hold.

Mr Gallagher’s barrister confirmed: “The agreed position is that this review will be adjourned for four weeks to allow progression of the appointment of the chairperson of the inquiry.”

It was also stressed, however, that the process may take longer.

Paul McLaughlin KC, for the secretary of state, said: “It isn’t committed that there will be a chairperson within that time, the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) are working towards that. I just wanted to make that clear.”

No-one has ever been held criminally responsible for the terrorist outrage which inflicted the greatest single loss of life during the Troubles.

The 29 people who died included a woman pregnant with twins. Hundreds more were injured.

Initial proceedings brought by Mr Gallagher centred on claims that a range of intelligence from British security agents, MI5 and RUC officers could have been drawn together to foil the car bomb plot.

In 2021 Lord Justice Horner ruled that the bombing could arguably have been thwarted if police had received all available material.

He recommended fresh probes on both sides of the border, based on a legal duty under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Identifying a potential failure in policy at the time around a de-escalation of security "impaired by political thinking", he said it was also arguable that a tip-off from an undercover British agent could have contributed to the chances of averting the explosion.

No conclusive determination was reached that the atrocity could have been avoided.

But in his ruling, the judge pointed to “plausible arguments that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bombing”.

Lord Justice Horner has since pledged his commitment to ensuring any investigation will be to a standard which meets human rights requirements.

Agreeing to a further four-week adjournment today, he emphasised: “It’s in everybody’s interests that we get this matter dealt with in the appropriate fashion.”