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8 October 2009

AFTERMATH REVIEW: John Coulter

Aftermath: The Omagh Bombing and the Families’ Pursuit of Justice
by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Harvill Secker, £12.99

The Omagh car bombing in August 1998 was the single biggest republican atrocity in the modern Irish conflict – 31 dead including six men, 12 women, 11 children and a pair of unborn twins. Those slaughtered by the no-warning dissident republicans of the Real IRA during Saturday shopping included Protestants, Catholics and a Mormon.

Although the police believed they knew the killers’ identities, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges and the media was awash with allegations of protecting informants and of how much advance warning the intelligence services had about the massacre.

It was left to the relatives of the dead to take up their fight for justice. Ruth Dudley Edwards provides a heart-warming, tear-jerking and at times shocking account of how these families – taking as their motto “For evil to triumph, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing” – decided to pursue the Real IRA through the civil courts, where the burden of proof is lower than in the criminal courts.

They had no knowledge of the law, no money and included a cleaner, a mechanic and a bookie. Yet they became formidable campaigners and surmounted countless daunting obstacles to win a famous victory. The Bible is often quoted in Irish politics and the relatives’ battle against the Real IRA could be compared to the Old Testament story of the boy David challenging the giant Philistine warrior Goliath.

Much has been written about Omagh, but Edwards skilfully captures the emotion and persistence of these mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters who became the scourge of the hard men of the Real IRA. Once you begin reading, you become gripped by what they did – it is an inspiration to ordinary people anywhere devastated by terrorism.

Edwards is not a newcomer to writing about Irish history and politics. She is one of the most important contemporary writers on Ireland and this is compulsive reading. In spite of the complicated nature of the legal proceedings surrounding the case, the book is structured for clarity of understanding.

As she delves ever deeper into the legal controversies, the victims are never forgotten. Straight after the prologue, the opening chapter is dedicated to them. Although the entire work is an Irish masterpiece, it is the moving account of those who were butchered on that fateful Saturday which is the most poignant section of this book.

John Coulter

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