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Daily Telegraph
11 April 2014

Omagh bombing: When will Martin McGuinness break the IRA omerta over this atrocity?

Daly arrives at Dungannon Court, Northern Ireland, April 11 (Photo: AP)

So Seamus Daly has been charged with the murders of 29 people who were killed by the Omagh bomb in August 1998. For the record, that bomb actually killed 31, for one of the dead women was carrying twins that had gone almost to term. They were never born, but their names were Eimear and Evelyn Monaghan.

Martin McGuinness keeps telling us that he takes risks for peace. Here’s a challenge to him to prove it. Even though the bombers were from the Continuity and the Real IRAs and not from McGuinness’s beloved Provisionals, he has steadfastly refused to ask republicans to give evidence that might help the police find the bombers. Now, with Daly in the dock, shouldn’t the Deputy First Minister and Windsor banquet attendee have a change of heart?

There were many atrocities during the those terrible decades in Northern Ireland when innocent bystanders were killed, injured and traumatised, mainly by paramilitaries. (Those republicans trying to claim moral equivalence in the killing stakes should be reminded that of the 3,670 or so dead, more than 2,000 were civilians, and, overall, 59 per cent were victims of republicans and 29 per cent of loyalists. The security forces – who lost more than a thousand members – killed only 365 and rarely deliberately.)

Omagh, though, was the atrocity that attracted the biggest public reaction. It had the highest death toll, the victims were predominantly women and children and they included nationalists and unionists, Catholics, Protestants and a Mormon. And the bomb was left in a shopping area of a small market town on a sunny Saturday afternoon three months after the Good Friday Agreement had been ratified in referenda north and south, and there was a widespread belief that violence had stopped.

The aftermath of the Omagh bomb, August 15, 1998 (Photo: PA)

Because the victims were in one jurisdiction and most of the suspects in another, the two police forces did not work well together and there were many mistakes and problems in the investigation. Eventually – driven to distraction by being told that the perpetrators were known but could not be brought to justice – a group of bereaved relatives decided to bring a civil case against some of the suspects and the Real IRA. With allies that included the Daily Mail, Peter Mandelson, Bob Geldof and two ex-terrorists (Sean O’Callaghan and Henry Robinson) they managed to raise the funds that enabled solicitor Jason McCue to run with the case.

Although all five defendants had trouble with the law and were jailed at various times in the republic, the criminal law could not make any charges relating to Omagh stick. But in 2009, the judge in the landmark civil action found Seamus Daly, Liam Campbell, Michael McKevitt and Colm Murphy responsible for the bombing and ordered them to pay damages. There was insufficient evidence to nail the undoubtedly guilty Seamus McKenna, who fell off a roof and died last year.

For the families, it’s wonderful news that Daly has been charged. They will be praying that he’s found guilty and that other perpetrators will follow him into the dock. Victor Barker, whose 12-year-old son James was murdered, stood outside Windsor Castle on Tuesday night with a placard saying “A terrorist in a white tie and tails is still a terrorist – Martin McGuinness time to tell the truth.”

It’s a reasonable request. If, as McGuinness claims, he knows nothing helpful about Omagh, can he not find the courage to ask those of his followers who are better informed to break the omerta and talk to police?

Ruth Dudley Edwards


© Ruth Dudley Edwards