Expectations are low that an official inquiry into the role of state forces in the Omagh bomb will tackle the censorship and secrecy which have grown up around the events of August 15, 1998.
Twenty-nine people died when telephoned warnings failed to clear the area around a Real IRA device which had been closely monitored by state forces as it was brought into the County Tyrone town.
Thursday’s announcement of an inquiry and subsequent reporting by the mainstream media failed to acknowledge the widely held suspicion that the attack was allowed to proceed as a part of a ‘dirty tricks’ agenda against the breakaway armed group.
The culture of cover-up within the PSNI/RUC and British military has ensured that the efforts of the families of the victims to unearth the truth have been stymied for almost a quarter of a century.
The demand for a public inquiry has been conceded as the British establishment has insisted on shutting down all investigations which could expose British war crimes, a unilateral action which has been universally condemned in Ireland and abroad. In that context, few believe the inquiry will be anything other than a propaganda exercise to conceal the true motivation for allowing the bomb to explode with such devastating consequences.
A clue to the thinking behind the decision lies in the fact that state papers held in London relating to the Omagh tragedy, which should have been released over the New Year, were all withheld.
Meanwhile, news management of the inquiry has begun with the decision to announce it in the same moment as news was released of the controversial sentencing of a British soldier for a killing in another Tyrone town in 1988.
The 1916 Societies condemned what they described as the “cynical” timing for a “whitewashed” inquiry. It “tells you everything about how they still see the Irish as lesser,” they said.
The opposition spokesman on the North of Ireland, Peter Kyle, spoke of “contradictions” and a “clash” in London’s approach to different victims of the conflict.
Much of the inquiry is expected to take place in secret. It has also been restricted to a set of issues relating to state involvement, including the handling and sharing of intelligence and the use of mobile phone analysis, and whether state forces had “advance knowledge” of the attack and the deaths “could have been prevented” –– terms which have been used in the past as euphemisms for collusion.
The Dublin government appeared to have been blind-sided, and faced pressure to announce their own inquiry into what was a joint operation involving Gardai and the Crown forces. Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Justice Minister Simon Harris have both requested clarification from the British government.
Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Órfhlaith Begley said the campaign by the Omagh families for the full truth about the killings of their loved ones had “taken a big step forward”.
And she called again on the British government to scrap its “flawed and cruel” legacy bill.
“The families deserve full transparency and full disclosure about the events which led to the killing of their loved ones,” she said. “There should be no more delays and no more hold-ups preventing the families from finding out the truth.”