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Times Literary Supplement logo
11 September 2009

AFTERMATH REVIEW: by Mary Kenny

I reported on the Omagh atrocity in August 1998. All bombs cause appalling suffering, but Omagh was a particularly "soft" target: the explosion disproportionately killed young children, the elderly, the pregnant, and ordinary families shopping for school uniforms on a Saturday afternoon. The telephone warning was misleading and inadequate. And once again, the swell of Irish people who declared "not in my name" was increased and this time, among the mourners at many funerals were Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, keen to affirm that they had now taken the political path and deplored what the "Real IRA" splinter group had done.

Despite the horrified reaction to the twenty-nine deaths, it proved difficult to secure a criminal prosecution against the prime suspects because of an apparent lack of witnesses. Ruth Dudley Edwards implies and with good reason - that there seemed also a lack of political will to prosecute. The peace process was indeed on track, and the politicians seemed keener to accentuate the positive: the late Mo Mowlam sounded more anxious for the families to forgive and "move on" than to pursue justice. (Forgiveness is a virtue, but there must be repentance before pardon.) Yet some unlikely heroes emerged to support the bereaved Omagh families, including Bob Geldof, who appears in these pages, livid with righteous anger, Peter Mandelson - genuinely caring and concerned and Paul Dacre, the Editor of the Daily Mail, who dedicated music on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs to the Omagh families. Dudley Edwards describes the long project of getting together a sometimes motley crew of supporters - reformed terrorists, an eccentric lawyer or two, Lord· Salisbury - to mount a civil case to pursue justice for Omagh. After eleven years, that justice finally came to pass and the defendants were summoned, charged and found guilty: their assets were also seized, which may prove a particularly effective deterrent.

This is not only an admirable book, packed with information: it is also a necessary book. It puts everything and everyone associated with the Omagh bombing on the record, in context, and with humanity. The families emerge with great poignancy, as does Dudley Edwards's compassion for them. A chronology of "politics and terror" at the end only lacks one date: September 11, 2001, when the attack on the United States changed everything for Real IRA terrorists recruiting in America, and those US politicians who had been inclined to support bombs in Ireland suddenly saw it all quite differently.

Mary Kenny
© TLS

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