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Omagh remembers tragic bomb victims - 19 years on

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Omagh remembers tragic bomb victims - 19 years on thumbnailLaying wreaths during the memorial service to mark the 19th anniversary of the Omagh bomb are Sandra Patterson and Michael Gallagher, representing Omagh Support and Self Help Group.

SUNDAY'S annual memorial service to mark the Omagh bomb tragedy could prove to be the first stage in a turning point to bring justice to all affected.

It was 19 years ago yesterday, August 15, 1998, when a car bomb exploded in town and murdered 29 people and unborn twins, left over 200 injured and families and a community scarred for life.

Over the coming months more revelations concerning that fateful event are due to emerge and according to one of the men behind the campaign for justice, spokesman for the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, Michael Gallagher, it could speed up their efforts to have the full story told.

Sunday's service, which was held at the memorial garden, Drumragh Avenue, was well attended by members of the local community and clergy.

Representatives from the Northern Ireland Office included Sharon Ewart, the Irish Government representative was Fionnuala Callanan, while the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Labour MP, Stephen Pound, was also present.

The event was opened by Mr Gallagher, who lost his son, Aidan, in the bomb blast. He talked of the various atrocities down the years such as Claudy, more recently those in Manchester and London and across the world in places like Berlin.

 

He also referred to the fact that two of the major terrorist conflicts involving ETA in Spain and Farc in Columbia had come to an end this year and hoped the victims of these would be treated well because he didn't believe victims in Northern Ireland were treated particularly well.

After introductions by Omagh Support and Self-Help Group member, Sandra Patterson, the service itself included music and prayer and remembered all victims of terrorism worldwide.

The gathering heard the opening prayer from Rev Alan Barr of Sixmilecross and Termonmaguirke Church of Ireland. This was followed by readings from Rev Ian Gilpin, First Moira Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church; Esther Millar, Methodist Church, Omagh; Rabbi David Singer, Belfast Jewish Community, Monsignor Joseph Donnelly, Drumragh Parish Priest. Rev Jane Nelson, First Omagh Presbyterian Church, also took part, while a special prayer to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Baha'u'lla`h and was read by Dr Rustam Jamshidi of the Baha'i faith.

There was a poem from Denis Coffey, Celtic Courage, Mahon, Blackrock, Cork while songs and music for the occasion was provided by Leslie Matthews, the Omagh Community Youth Choir and St Eugene's Brass Band.

The service had an Irish, British and Spanish element to reflect the nationalities that were impacted by the event they were marking.

Speaking after the service Mr Gallagher said he was happy with the turnout and how the entire event went on the day.

 

He praised the local community and indeed those who had travelled from further afield to be part of the ceremonies.

"It's a huge relief that it's over because there's always a lot of planning involved. We are very happy the way it went and the weather was very kind to us as well.

"To see people from all faiths, all backgrounds coming together and praying, singing and remembering our dead shows our diversity is our strength, not our weakness," he said.

Mr Gallagher revealed the working group for next year's 20th anniversary commemorative event was scheduled to meet shortly and it would be planning how to mark the occasion.

"We hope we will be able to get someone of significant standing to attend the event. We would expect the Taoiseach and Secretary of State, if not the Prime Minister, to be here also."

He added it would also be important to have a senior member of the Spanish government present too and he felt it was always important to include everyone affected by the tragedy, but particularly at next year's anniversary.

He also felt it would be important to have a representative from the US government attend, particularly as it had always been to the forefront of the peace process. When pressed he said someone like former President Bill Clinton would be a natural candidate for such an occasion.

"I would imagine there would be a lot of organisations that could make a contribution and we could have an anniversary not only to honour the people that died but help everyone look to the future".

 

The Omagh bomb inflicted the greatest loss of life of any single attack throughout the Troubles.

Last week, bereaved families issued a writ to sue PSNI chief constable George Hamilton for failings in the police investigation that they believe allowed the killers to escape justice.

Relatives have already successfully sued four republicans in a landmark civil trial that found them liable for the bombing, but no one has ever been convicted in a criminal court of the murders.

Police Ombudsman reports have previously raised serious concerns about the police investigation into the car bomb attack. They said there were delays in arresting suspects, intelligence information was not shared and evidential opportunities were missed.

Mr Gallagher said while the Omagh story had moved on significantly, there was still a lot more to be learned about the atrocity and he hoped between the judicial review and other actions, more should be revealed.

"We hoped to have the judicial review process completed by next January or February. It's important to stress we're looking for answers in the lead-up to and the aftermath of the bomb and that is absolutely no reflection on the police service. We continue to cooperate and support it," he said.

Mr Gallagher said they hoped some aspects of the judicial review would open up new avenues of enquiry for them.

"That's what we hope. When you go into this kind of process, you don't know where it's going to lead you but the facts need to be examined and more importantly, any lessons learned need to be applied, so that it will assist in any future atrocities."

He added some positive outcome would be a fitting way to mark the 20th anniversary.

 

Cat Wilkinson, director of Omagh Support and Self Help Group, said they were grateful for the community support over the last 19 years.

"Each year we are astounded that the community continues to remember and come together to mark this event. We are really grateful for this support and gives us the momentum to continue, however we feel that after the 20th anniversary we will come together every five years as we feel it is the right time to do so."

Arrangements are already underway to mark the 20th anniversary and the support group would welcome anyone who would like to contribute to this to contact them and be a part of this landmark occasion.

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