Editorial: Full facts around Omagh bombing must be made public

AFTER a long and determined campaign, the families of those killed in the bomb that ripped the heart out of Omagh on a busy Saturday afternoon in August 1998 have been granted an independent inquiry.

Their quiet dignity and tenacity stands in stark contrast to the foot-dragging, obfuscation, broken promises and disappointments they have met from governments, police and security services for almost a quarter of a century.

The blame for the attack, which killed 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins, lies squarely with the Real IRA.

But there have always been serious questions for the authorities. These were crystallised in a High Court judgment in 2021 which found that there was a real prospect that the bombing could have been prevented. The ruling called for fresh investigations on both sides of the border and highlighted several areas of concern.

These included how intelligence was handled and shared, the use of mobile phone analysis, whether there was advance knowledge of the Real IRA's bomb plans and if security services or police could have disrupted the attack.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has now acted on the High Court's ruling, telling the House of Commons that he is establishing "an independent statutory inquiry into the Omagh bombing".

Importantly, while they should not have had to resort to the courts, he has also listened to the families. Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the bombing, said Mr Heaton-Harris "has given us everything that we have asked for, and we're very appreciative of that".

Emphasising that the "terrorists who planned, prepared and delivered this bomb into Omagh" were to blame, Mr Gallagher said the inquiry would look at "the failings of the people that are there to protect us".

It is important that details of how the inquiry will operate are quickly confirmed. That includes how the Irish government will cooperate.

As the Omagh inquiry was announced, in Belfast Crown Court a former soldier was given a suspended sentence for killing Aidan McAnespie at a British army checkpoint in Aughnacloy in 1988.

These cases, and countless others, only underline how the scars of the Troubles – inflicted both before and after the Good Friday Agreement – are a daily reality in the present that will continue to cast a shadow on the future unless handled with compassion, openness and justice.

Unfortunately, the British government remains committed to profoundly flawed Troubles legislation that amounts to an amnesty for killers. It must think again.