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10th Anniversary – The Omagh Bombing – ‘Public inquiry would help us all to move on’

Resource type: News

Irish News |

“I won’t be long.” Those were the last words Michael Gallagher heard his son Aiden say as he left to buy jeans in Omagh on August 15, 1998. The 58-year-old has been very much the public voice and face of the bomb victims over the last decade. As well as dealing with his own grief, the Omagh mechanic has been a spokesman for many of the families as they have pursued justice for their loved ones. After 10 years, he has become cynical of the pledges and promises of police forces and governments. He remembers every detail of the day of the atrocity, from seeing Aiden for the last time to the moment he had to travel to a make-shift morgue at Lisneal barracks but was unable to go in to identify his only son’s body. His brother James did it. “At around half four or five in the morning I was taken in to be interviewed by two police officers. I knew by the nature of the questions they were asking it was not going to be a happy outcome,” he said. “Then I had to come back and tell Patsy, Cathy and Sharon (his wife and two daughters) – that was probably the most difficult thing.” Today Michael feels both sad and angry. His anger is many-fronted. He is angry that no-one has been brought to justice for his son’s life and he is angry at the men who planned and planted the bomb. “I was sad at the utter waste of life,” he said. “Aiden was somebody who could take a piece of scrap and make it into a beautiful artefact. He was very well balanced. His friends were right across the board. “He enjoyed the weekends; went out had a few beers, had everything to live for. At that age he was becoming a very mature person. That’s why I felt it was important to go out and be active and make sure the people responsible for this were so shamed they could not appear out on the streets again.” He feels he was pushed to the fore by the fact that he already suffered the grief of a Troubles death when his youngest brother Hugh, a member of the security forces, was shot dead by the IRA in 1984. “I was maybe only slightly better able to handle this because I had been through it before,” he said. Stuck with the image of the man from Omagh, media crews from around the world returned to Michael again and again. Away from the media glare, Aiden is still very much at the centre of family life in his home. The family still talk about him daily. “I think that’s a healthy thing. I know there are families who find it painful to talk about their loved ones. We don’t ever put Aiden to the back of our minds – we’re never frightened to talk about him,” he said. On a personal level, Michael believes Omagh has brought positive changes to his own character. “I judge people on the quality of the person rather than on their religion or politics,” he said. “It’s made me a much wiser person – I know the world’s not as simple a place as I though it was.” But he is scathing of politicians who he believes primarily are concerned with power. “I have met people in high places who, over the past three or four years, have the capacity to bring Omagh to an end, the public side of Omagh. They make you promises but they never live up to them,” he said. He believes that a public inquiry, supported by the British and Irish governments, would provide answers the families need to move on. But the governments are not willing to do so. “I am aware that there were intelligence failings. A public inquiry would be embarrassing to the Irish and British governments, but is it not better now to bring these things to an end rather than have the families go through more revelation after revelation?” For now, he is frustrated that the Omagh relatives cannot move on. “With a public inquiry I would be more than happy to hang up my hat and move on with the life that was suspended on August 15 1998,” he said. POLICE REFUSE TO DO PRESS INTERVIEWS Police have been criticised for refusing interviews about the investigation into the Omagh bombing on the tenth anniversary of the atrocity. A spokesman issued a statement on behalf of senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Norman Baxter, but said he would not be available to any media outlet for interview. There has been heavy criticism of the policing handling of the case over the past 10 years, both by the RUC under chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan and during the trial of suspect Sean Hoey, who was acquitted of the Omagh murders. In response to Irish News requests for an interview, the PSNI press office issued a statement saying: “The investigation remains live and a number of officers are working on the case. “Police have not given up on catching those responsible. But as we have said before what is needed is for the people out there who know who did this to come forward now in the new dispensation and tell us what they know. “Police need people to make statements and give evidence. Without this assistance, any prosecution is unlikely but police are not giving up.” Veteran independent Omagh councillor Patrick McGowan, who knew a number of those murdered in the bombing, said the tenth anniversary provided police with a good opportunity to remind people the investigation is still live. “I welcome the fact that the investigation is continuing but I think it’s short sighted that the police are not giving interviews about the bombing,” he said. “It may have jogged some people’s memory to provide more evidence.”

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