Blame must stay with Real IRA bombers, says Omagh victim’s sister

Blame must stay with Real IRA bombers, says Omagh victim’s sister

The blame for the Omagh bomb must be kept firmly on the Real IRA, the sister of one victim said, after a public inquiry into the atrocity was ordered.

The announcement of a public inquiry by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on Thursday was broadly welcomed by the bereaved families.

Clare Radford, whose brother Alan, 16, was killed, welcomed the announcement but said she had some reservations.

Some 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed in the Co Tyrone town in 1998 just months after the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and hundreds more were injured.

It was planted by the dissident republican group the Real IRA.

A High Court judgment in July 2021 found there should be an investigation into whether the attack could have been foiled.

Ms Radford described her family’s grief as never-ending but said it is heightened when public attention is on the atrocity.

“You face the same battle every day you wake up, when Omagh is brought to the forefront of the media, we are now going into a public inquiry of sorts, it brings all those feelings back up to the surface that you’ve been trying to deal with for so long,” she said.

Omagh Bomb Blast Scene
Police officers and firefighters inspect the damage caused by a bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh (Paul McErlane/PA)

“It never goes away but we’re regurgitating what had happened. Today I was transported back to 1998.

“I do welcome the public inquiry but I do have massive reservations that the public perspective could change from the terrorists, those who built a bomb, and drove it into Omagh town.

“I don’t want the onus to be removed from them, and that is my biggest fear.

“I will be wholeheartedly invested in it (the inquiry) but I do have those reservations.”

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the bombing, said for families that are seeking the truth about Omagh, the announcement is hugely momentous.

Public inquiry into Omagh bombing
Omagh bomb campaigners Michael Gallagher (right) and Stanley McCombe speak to Omagh bomb solicitor John Fox (left) (Oliver McVeigh/PA)

“It’s what we have fought for for over 20 years and we’re glad we’re at a point now where we don’t need to do any more fighting, we can move forward and we look forward to co-operating with the British government and the Irish government to get to the truth,” he said.

“If there are deficiencies within the system, hopefully they will be identified and rectified, that’s part of the function of a public inquiry.

“It’s not to reapportion blame from those who perpetrated this act on to those who were left to pick up the pieces, it’s to find out what happened, and if there were deficiencies to identify them, learn the lessons and pass the lessons on.”

Stanley McCombe, whose wife Ann was killed in the attack, also welcomed the decision and said families’ loved ones were on their mind as they heard the announcement.

“You think about them every day, but more so now that we’ve got this far, and we’ve got someone who listened to us,” he said.

“I promised Ann after Ann was murdered that I would fight for justice for her, and we’re nearly there now.”