Thursday, August 21, 2008

Discord over Omagh anniversary

The controversy surrounding the tenth anniversary of the Omagh bombing has highlighted once again the difficultly in dealing politically with such events. While there is a political settlement and a power sharing government there has been no honest examination the past or a resolution the legacy of the Troubles.

The basic fact of the atrocity is that the Real IRA detonated a bomb in Omagh town centre that resulted in the deaths of twenty-nine people. But the various political parties place their own interpretations this event. This has come out more strongly over the years with revelations that the bombing could have been prevented, and that there was no proper investigation. There were also the failed prosecutions in the north and south that revealed police corruption and raised suspicions over the role state agents may have played in the atrocity.

Sinn Fein for its part has tried to completeley dissociate itself from the bombing, using it to draw a line between the activities of the provisionals and the Real IRA. This was in demonstrated in the row over the wording on the Omagh memorial, with the Sinn Fein controlled council insisting that the organisation responsible was not identified. Mentioning the Real IRA would have highlighted the fact that those responsible for the bombing had only recently broken from the provisionals, and that the provisional movement itself had endorsed such tactics. The catch all term "dissident republicans" that was finally used in the memorial is one that allows Sinn Fein to distance itself from the event and also to portray any critics of its strategy as being associated with mass murder.

The British, whatever their role in the Omagh bombing, certainly saw benefits from its political fallout . It served to discredit the republican opposition, solidify support for the the GFA and bind the provisionals into the political process. The threat of a return to the armed campaign by the provisionls, though never credible, was made impossible.

It suits both Sinn Fein and the British to propagate the line that Omagh was an atrocity carried out by dissidents, and that if such atrocities are to be prevented in the future people must support the peace process. This was very much the message of the official remembrance ceremony which gathered together the great and the good. These included the police chiefs and political leaders who have been responsible in denying justice to the victims.

Within this "official" view on the Omagh bombing there is no room for dissent. This meant that those victims relatives who are struggling to find the truth of what happened were effectively excluded from the remembrance events. At least 10 of the victim's families, members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, boycotted the official memorial service. Its chairman Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aiden in the bombing, summed up their feelings on the event: "There are, not a small number of people, but a large number of people who feel very uncomfortable about what happened and they rather we`d all go away and forget about it." Kevin Skelton, vice chair of the group, was particularly scathing of politicians, accusing them of doing "nothing for the families of the Omagh atrocity".

The families reiterated their call for a full cross-border public inquiry into the atrocity. But once again this met with rejection. The strongest opposition to his call came from Taoiseach Brian Cowan - just hours after he had laid a wreath in memory of the victims.

Ten years on from the Omagh bombing the search for the truth of what happened that day remains as elusive as ever. Like many other events from the history of the Troubles it is not really in the past but very much of the present. For the stability of the peace process depends on people not rocking the boat and raising questions over controversial events and the bona fides of its main sponsors. Despite the rhetoric the nature of the political settlement means that justice and reconciliation can never be delivered.

1 comment:

Red said...

Excellent piece. I think that something could have been made of the 'victims industry' that has swollen to enormous size on the basis that there are two contradictory views of who the victims were and on the fact that the crew in the executive have no answers to anything except wholesale bribary and corruption