The Omagh bomb of 25 years ago was the end of any significant republican armed campaign in Ireland or elsewhere. The backlash ruled such out for many years. The Omagh bombing was one of the many outrages carried out by all sides – such as, Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, the Shankill bombing, the Dublin and Monaghan bombings – during the 30 years conflict in the North, known as the ‘Troubles’. It happened just four months after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, when it appeared the long, bloody conflict was coming to an end.
Huge protests against the bombing and any further armed campaigns took place throughout the north and south of Ireland. Such was the popular anger, Sinn Fein leaders were forced to publicly condemn the bombing and the opposition republican group behind it. The British, Irish and American governments used the atrocity to push for consolidation of the Good Friday Agreement.
The bombing was an atrocity. The Real IRA willingly planted the bomb which killed 29 civilians. They bear responsibility. Their methods are futile. Not only are they unable to shake the British state. The various armed ‘dissident’ groupings are infiltrated and manipulated by agents of that state.
They also create a climate where repressive legislation can be introduced. The Omagh bomb led rapidly to the passing of the Criminal Justice (Terror and Conspiracy) Act through the Westminster Parliament. Its provisions contradict the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The Act was rushed through in a two-day sitting. As Marxists, we believe democracy under capitalism has huge shortcomings. At least, however, a longer Parliamentary process allows scrutiny.
The actions of the Real IRA produced a climate where those seen as associated with ‘dissident’ Republican groups are targeted for repression. Internment by remand is being used; this is also being used against people allegedly involved in ‘ordinary’ crime. And, of course, such measures will be used against the working-class movement when capitalism feels under threat.
What did the RUC know?
Since the bomb it has become clear that security forces had prior knowledge. The Police Ombudsman concluded this. So did a Northern Ireland High Court judgment.
On August 4th 1998 an anonymous caller rang Omagh police barracks. The caller said the Continuity IRA was going to attack police in Omagh on August 15th (which became the day of the bomb. The Continuity IRA was also involved in the bombing but did not claim responsibility). The caller named four people as being involved. The police officer who took the call believed it was genuine and shared it with more senior officers. This information was not passed on.
There were other warnings. Peter Keeley was a long-term security services agent in the Newry area. Three days before the bomb, he warned police a bomb was being assembled in the North Louth area, to be sent North. The intelligence services were also monitoring the phones of suspected Real IRA members.
Following from this, questions about police deployment on the day of the bombing have never been satisfactorily answered. There were no police on duty in the town centre when the car carrying the bomb was driven in. A special police unit patrolled the Omagh area in civilian cars. On August 15th, 15 police were on leave. Twelve were waiting in Landrovers to travel to police a parade in Kilkeel, Co Down. This is about the furthest point in Northern Ireland from Omagh.
Omagh families’ struggle for justice
Shortly after the bomb, a number of families set up a victims’ group. Sean O’Callaghan, a long-term state agent, was introduced as advisor. O’Callaghan steered relatives away from querying the state’s actions. O’Callaghan has admitted that, when an agent in the IRA, he murdered alleged informer John Corcoran in 1985. Corcoran was an epileptic father of eight.
A public inquiry into the Omagh bomb has been announced. The campaigning of the late Laurence Rush is a major reason this has come about. He worked with Marxists for many years. Laurence began the legal process of holding the state to account for its failings, while always being clear the Real IRA was guilty. Laurence suffered vilification for this. Thus, he has been written out of the narrative about Omagh.
We do not know what the public inquiry will conclude. We do know the methods of the Real IRA and the cynicism of the state have led to terrible, and continuing, suffering as a result of Omagh.