DUBLIN – A member of a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has been ordered to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the 1998 Omagh bombing, considered the worst attack in Northern Ireland in the last 30 years.
Sean Hoey faces a total of 58 charges relating to the bombing that devastated the Northern Irish town of Omagh.
The IRA wants to unite the Protestant northern province with the predominantly Catholic Irish Republic in the south. It formally ended its armed campaign in July.
Coming four months after signing the Good Friday peace agreement, the Omagh bombing that killed 29 people was carried out by the Real IRA, a small dissident group that split from the main, or “Provisional” IRA, due to disagreements with the latter’s ceasefire and adherence to a proposed peace process.
In Belfast on Friday, a magistrate said there was enough evidence to try Hoey.
In seven years no one has been convicted in relation to the bombing, and the slow pace of proceedings against the alleged perpetrators has angered the family and friends of the victims.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the blast, expressed relief that someone was finally set to stand trial. “We believe that it is regrettable that no one has been charged across the border,” said Gallagher.
Investigators speculate that the car laden with an estimated 225 kg of explosives was driven across the border to Northern Ireland and Omagh on the morning of the explosion.
Gallagher and his wife said they sat in the court’s public gallery for the previous three days of the preliminary hearing. “I hope it is only a beginning and others involved will be brought to trial,” he said.
Meanwhile, Peter Corrigan, Hoey’s lawyer, said the evidence against his client merely suggested that he allegedly made the bombs and was not enough to put Hoey on trial.
Corrigan last May reacted to charges against his client by saying he believed they were politically motivated. On Friday, he made reference to several wrongful convictions of Irish men and women in the 1970s.
He said: “I would ask anyone interested in justice to look at this case dispassionately before it too late”, referring to the previously erroneous convictions.
The Omagh bomb was the worst single atrocity during Northern Ireland’s three-decade conflict. The dead included local Catholics and Protestants, shoppers from the Irish Republic, Spanish exchange students, and a pregnant woman.
Last May, a report by the Independent Monitoring Commission, a body set up by the Irish and British governments to monitor and report on the activities of paramilitary groups, described the Real IRA as “the most active of the dissident republican groups … responsible for brutal attacks and robbery”. It also attributed to the group a series of firebomb attacks on businesses earlier this year.
Northern Ireland’s three decades of civil conflict up to 1998 saw over 3,600 people killed, most of them civilians, as mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and republican paramilitaries, who want Northern Ireland to merge with the Republic of Ireland to the south, faced off against mostly Protestant unionists or loyalist counterparts who want to remain part of the United Kingdom. British soldiers flooded into Northern Ireland but were viewed by many nationalists as a hostile occupation force and were regularly targeted by the IRA, as were the police.Show