Republic of Ireland news

Pub bombings' families left ‘wondering' as Omagh public inquiry ordered – Labour

The remnants of the Mulberry Bush pub in Birmingham, after the 1974 bomb attacks. (PA Archive)
Richard Vernalls, PA

Families of the Birmingham pub bombings' victims will left “watching and wondering” why the Government has not ordered a public inquiry into the 1974 blasts after having done so for the Omagh attack, Labour has said.

A statutory public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing was announced in the House of Commons on Thursday, by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

It followed a campaign led by Michael Gallagher, the father of one of the Omagh victims.

Welcoming the Government's move, shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle spoke of “contradictions” and “clash” in the Government's approach to victims of different atrocities during the Troubles, and after the 1998 signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Kyle referenced the Birmingham pub bombings, in which 21 people died and more than 200 were injured after twin blasts ripped apart the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs on November 21, 1974.

The victims' families, through the Justice4the21 campaign group, have been pleading for a public inquiry into the deaths of their loved ones for years.

New inquests into the victims' deaths were held in the city in 2019, but the issue of perpetrators was excluded by the coroner, leading the families to claim they had been left with many unanswered questions.

Julie Hambleton, whose eldest sister Maxine was killed in the bombings, said: “We could not be happier and more proud of Michael Gallagher and his family, because this is monumental for them.

“It may now mean they get a level of solace about what happened.

“It'll hopefully give them access to documentation and information that has been withheld.

“The Birmingham families are in the same boat, but we cannot understand why the Government has not agreed to give us the public inquiry we have been asking for.

“And so what the Government is doing is creating a hierarchy of victims, and it boils my blood.

“There's no difference between us and other victims, there's no lesser justification for our right to a public inquiry.”

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Kyle said: “The fact the (Northern Ireland) secretary is calling for this inquiry does clash with the Government's overall approach to legacy issues”.

He added: “(Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris) has put the Omagh families at the heart of today's decision.

“I'm worried that other victims of atrocities during the Troubles will be watching and wondering why their loved ones are not being treated in a similar way?

“For example, I speak regularly with the families of the Birmingham pub bombings' victims, and I'm worried about how this news will affect them.

“Victims are already noticing contradictions in the Government's approach to legacy issues.”

He said: “The Government has presented its logic as to why the atrocities committed in late 1998 qualify for public inquiry and those before don't, but it's a logic only understood within Whitehall.

“Many families still struggle with the loss of loved ones, and their grief is compounded by the absence of information or justice.

“They simply cannot see the logic of why the crimes that shattered their lives are undeserving of similar treatment to that announced today, simply because of a date that appears to them suited to the needs of ministers, but not respectful to their needs as victims.”

Mr Kyle said he believed the Northern Ireland secretary to be “a decent man”, adding Mr Heaton-Harris “needs to be certain that it will provide the same comfort and answers to all victims that he is offering family the families of Omagh today”.

Responding, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I actually do believe that we are being consistent.

“What has happened is that for hundreds if not thousands of families (in the) 25 years since the Troubles ceased, and the Belfast Good Friday agreement came into effect – there's been no justice and no information about what's happened.”