‘Significant step’ for victims’ families as terms of reference for Omagh bombing inquiry confirmed

‘Significant step’ for victims’ families as terms of reference for Omagh bombing inquiry confirmed

FAMIILIES of the victims of the Omagh bombing have welcomed the publication of the terms of reference for an inquiry into the tragedy which will begin this year.

The British Government has confirmed the four key areas which will be examined to ascertain whether the bombing could have been prevented.

Twenty-nine people, including a woman who was pregnant with twins, died in the attack in Co. Tyrone on August 15, 1998.

A further 220 people were injured in the Real IRA car bombing, which was one of the largest single atrocities of the Troubles period.

In February 2023 the British Government confirmed an independent statutory inquiry would be established into the preventability of the bombing.

Lord Turnbull was announced as the chair of the inquiry in June 2023.

The 1998 Omagh Bombing was the deadliest atrocity of the Troubles era

Northern Ireland Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed yesterday that its terms of reference are focused “on the four grounds identified by the Northern Ireland High Court as giving rise to plausible arguments that the bombing could have been prevented”.

They include the handling and sharing of intelligence, the use of mobile phone analysis, whether there was advance knowledge of the bomb and whether disruption operations could have prevented the attack.

“I want to first again express my deepest sympathy for all of those affected by the Omagh bombing in August 1998,” Mr Heaton-Harris said.

"It was a cruel atrocity carried out, not just on the people of Omagh, but on all those in Northern Ireland who supported the peace process.

“With the Terms of Reference now agreed, the Inquiry can press ahead with its work to comply with the judgement of the High Court, demonstrating the UK Government’s ongoing commitment to taking proper action on legacy related matters.

“The Inquiry Chair will now undertake a setting-up exercise to design the Inquiry as he sees fit, and he will announce further detail about the Inquiry in due course.”

Mr Heaton-Harris further called on the Irish Government to set out its plans to hold an inquiry of its own.

“I urge the Irish Government to now explain what consideration it has given to the setting up of an investigation in Ireland to discharge its obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, in line with the clear direction of the High Court,” he said.

The scene of the Omagh bombing in 1998

John Fox, of Fox Law, which represents the families of 15 of the bombing victims, has welcomed the inquiry announcement.

“This has been a long campaign brought by many of the families to have a proper and legally required Inquiry established into the Omagh Bomb,” he said.

“Our thoughts will always be foremost with the families who lost loved ones and the injured. The pain and suffering from that day will endure forever.

“It is the courage, strength and determination of the victims, their families and the survivors that has got us to this day.”

He added: “This is a significant step for all those affected to have their right to an independent and proper Inquiry into the circumstances of the Omagh Bomb.”

The SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan has also welcomed the inquiry announcement.

“The publication of the terms of reference for the upcoming public inquiry to the Omagh bombing is another welcome step to uncovering exactly what happened in Omagh on that day,” the West Tyrone MLA said.

“This has been a long journey for the families, beset with obstacles and delays in an attempt to stymie the truth,” he added.

“They have been through enough and we must now progress to the inquiry as soon as possible.

“This inquiry can leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding the truth and there must be full transparency when the proceedings take place.”