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The devastation caused in Omagh when a terrorist bomb was detonated at the junction of Market Street and Dublin Road PA Images
Omagh Bombing

Timeline: The long campaign for justice for families of the 1998 Omagh bomb victims

Today, NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he intends to establish an independent statutory inquiry into the bombing.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Feb 2023

FAMILIES OF THE Omagh bomb victims have travelled a long road in their quest for justice for their loved ones.

The dissident republican bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town on 15 August, 1998 killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. Hundreds more were injured.

Today, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he intends to establish an independent statutory inquiry into the bombing.

Let’s take a look at some of the key developments in the years since the 1998 blast.

1998

In September, a month after the bombing, the RUC and Garda arrest 12 men in connection with the atrocity. They subsequently release all of them without charge.

1999

Seven men are arrested in a joint RUC-Garda operation.

Colm Murphy is charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause injury. Murphy, then 48, from Ravensdale, Co Louth, is also charged with membership of an unlawful organisation, the so-called Real IRA.

2000

At the inquest into the deaths of the 29 victims, coroner John Leckey says he will press the courts to prosecute the bombers with the destruction of unborn twins.

Avril Monaghan had been pregnant with twins when she was killed.

Leckey says he is in no doubt that 31 people were killed in the bombing and that he will write to the director of public prosecutions to ask him to consider charging anyone apprehended for the bombing with child destruction.

2001

A report by the Police Ombudsman finds the RUC Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings, and condemned the RUC’s investigation of the bombing.

2002

Colm Murphy is found guilty by the Dublin Special Criminal Court of conspiracy to cause the Omagh bombing. He is jailed for 14 years.

2003

Alleged Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt, from Blackrock, Co Louth, is found guilty of directing terrorism and membership of an illegal organisation, at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court. He is sentenced to 20 years.

2005

Sean Hoey, of Molly Road, Jonesborough, Co Armagh, is charged with the murder of the 29 people killed in the Omagh bombing.

He is the first person to face a murder charge in relation to the attack.

Murphy’s conviction in the Irish courts is overturned and a new trial ordered.

2007

Hoey is found not guilty at Belfast Crown Court of 58 charges, including the murders of 29 people in the Omagh bombing. Clearing Hoey, the judge criticises police witnesses for “deliberate and calculated deception” during the lengthy trial.

2008

The families of some of the victims of the bombing begin a landmark civil case, suing five men they claim were involved.

A memorial garden is opened in Omagh to remember the victims of the blast, and a monument on the site where the bomb exploded.

2009

The judge in the civil trial rules McKevitt, Murphy and two others – Liam Campbell, from Dundalk, and Seamus Daly, from Monaghan – were all liable for the Omagh bomb.

He orders them to pay a total of £1.6 million damages to 12 relatives who took the case.

A fifth man, Seamus McKenna, from Dundalk, is cleared of liability for the bombing.

2010

Murphy is cleared following a retrial, after interview evidence from the Garda is ruled inadmissible.

2011

McKevitt and Campbell lose their appeal against the civil trial verdict. Murphy and Daly both win their appeals.

2013

Murphy and Daly are both found liable for the Omagh bombing after a civil retrial.

McKenna dies after falling off a roof in Dundalk.

Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers rules out a public inquiry, saying a fresh investigation is unlikely to reveal anything more about the attack.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the bombing, takes legal action against Villiers’ decision.

2014

Daly is charged with the murders of 29 people in the Omagh bombing.

2016

The prosecution case against Daly collapses. The Public Prosecution Service decides there is no reasonable prospect of conviction, after a key witness contradicted his own previous testimony.

A bid by Campbell and McKevitt to overturn the civil ruling that found them liable for the Omagh bomb is rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.

2017

Relatives of Omagh bomb victims sue PSNI chief constable George Hamilton for investigative failings they believe let the killers escape justice.

The bereaved families issued a writ against the chief constable seeking damages and a declaration their human rights have been breached.

2021

McKevitt dies.

Ruling in Gallagher’s judicial review, a judge recommends the UK Government carries out an investigation into the Omagh bombing, and urges the Irish Government to do likewise, after finding “plausible arguments” that there was a “real prospect” of preventing the atrocity.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris had pledged to announce the UK Government’s response to the judgment early in the new year.

He travelled to Omagh in December to meet some of the bereaved families and visit the site of the bombing and a nearby memorial garden.

2023

That brings us to today. 

Heaton-Harris this afternoon said he intends to establish an independent statutory inquiry into the bombing.

Speaking in the Houes of Commons, he said he had listened to the representations of the families affected by the atrocity and taken their varying perspectives into account alongside other factors, such as “the independence of any future investigation, the costs to the public purse and how best to allay wider public concern”.

“I have weighed these up against the clear findings set out by the court, which we must meet for any investigation to be effective and compliant with our international obligations, and which are at the core of my decision,” he said.

“I intend to establish an independent statutory inquiry into the Omagh bombing.”

In a statement this afternoon, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin welcomed the announcement of the inquiry.

“What happened in Omagh was a heinous attack, carried out by people with no respect for the lives of others or for democracy on this island. My thoughts are with the families of those murdered and with the survivors,” Martin said.

He said the Government now awaits further detail from the UK Government, in particular on the Terms of Reference for their inquiry. 

But speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster today, Michael Gallagher said: “I would say that the Irish government is running away from their responsibilities here, they need to engage.”

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