Dispute overshadows Omagh bomb memorial

People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony . Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
People gathering on Market Street, Omagh, during the ceremony . Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
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The 20th anniversary of the Omagh bomb has been marked in what is expected to be the final large public memorial event related to the atrocity.

However, the day was dominated by a row between Northern Ireland’s police chief and the former police ombudsman over whether the incident could have been prevented.

Crowds gathered in the County Tyrone town yesterday afternoon at the exact moment 20 years on from when the dissident republican bomb caused devastation.

Some 29 people, including a woman who was pregnant with unborn twins, were killed. It was the greatest single loss of life during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

A bell tolled 32 times, once for each of the victims as well as a final ring for all the victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

A priest who helped bereaved families at the time of the bomb challenged
those responsible to return and reflect on what they had done.

Father Kevin Mullan said he felt that 20 years on, at what was expected to be the final large public gathering in memory of the victims, was the right time to speak out.

Kevin Skelton, who lost his wife Mena in the bomb, described Wednesday’s event as a one-off to mark the 20th anniversary.

It came days after the last public event at the Memorial Garden in Omagh on Sunday.

In future years, the bereaved will instead mark the anniversary privately.

However, the day was dominated by a war of words between former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan and Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton.

Baroness O’Loan called for a public inquiry into the bombing and seriously questioned the handling of security force intelligence.

She said: “My view now is that it could have been prevented.” Baroness O’Loan added that the various intelligence services could have worked in a more cohesive way.

Mr Hamilton insisted that officers could not have prevented the blast.

“I consider this comment to be inaccurate, unfair and unreasonable,” he said.

“Police were not in a position to prevent the Omagh bombing.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann also criticised Baroness O’Loan.

“The blame for this atrocity lies at the feet of those who planned, made and delivered the bomb to Omagh,” he said.

“It is regrettable that the former police ombudsman Nuala O’Loan has chosen today of all days to make her controversial comments when the focus should be solely on the families and not her.”