Republic of Ireland news

Bereaved father hopeful that Government set to announce Omagh bomb inquiry

Michael Gallagher at the Memorial Garden (PA)
David Young and Jonathan McCambridge, PA

A man whose son was killed in the Omagh bombing has expressed hope that the Government will announce an inquiry into the 1998 atrocity.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris will make a statement in the House of Commons on Thursday outlining the response to a court judgment that directed the Government to establish some form of investigation.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the Real IRA bombing, took the legal challenge that resulted in the judge directing the state to act.

“We are hopeful that that statement will say that we will get a public inquiry,” he said.

“This is an inquiry that we've been calling for really since 2001.”

Mr Gallagher said any inquiry had to examine intelligence failings in the lead up to the Omagh bomb.

“We believe that there was serious security and intelligence failings and I personally believe that Omagh was a preventable atrocity, had the right action been taken in the lead up to Omagh,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.

The dissident republican bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town on August 15, 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 should carry out a human rights-compliant investigation into alleged security failings in the lead up to the attack.

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

His ruling came after a legal challenge by Mr Gallagher against the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry.

The judge also recommended that the Irish Government establish its own investigation.

Mr Heaton-Harris had pledged to announce the Government's response to the judgment early in the new year.

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

In his 2021 judgment, Mr Justice Horner directed that a fresh investigation should take place into the Real IRA atrocity.

He said any probe should examine the failure to act on an informer tip-off or use intelligence and surveillance evidence about previous terror attacks.

The judge said a new investigation should also examine whether a politically motivated “de-escalation” of the security approach to dissident republicans in the months before the 1998 attack resulted in crucial intelligence not being acted upon.

Mr Justice Horner said he was not going to order specifically that the UK investigation takes the form of a public inquiry, saying he did not want to be “prescriptive” about the methodology.

While having no jurisdiction to order the Irish Government to act, the judge also urged authorities there to establish their own investigation in light of his findings.