DERRY — A 34-year-old man from the Irish Republic will appear in court on Wednesday to faces charges that he provided the getaway car used in the August 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people and injured hundreds of others. It was the single greatest loss of life in Northern Ireland’s 30-year conflict.
No one has been convicted in connection with the bombing. Last month, the Dublin Supreme Court overturned one of the suspects’ convictions, and he is now awaiting a retrial.
Coming four months after the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, the Omagh bombing was the work of the “Real” IRA, a dissident group that opposed the IRA ceasefire and its commitment to the peace agreement, which was meant to lay the foundations for a normalisation of Northern Ireland politics and society.
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.
A cross-community power-sharing executive and assembly were set up under the 1998 agreement, but have since been suspended. Recent attempts to revive the institutions floundered on disagreement on how to verify the destruction of IRA weaponry – a key aspect of the 1998 peace deal.
This breakdown was followed within days by the theft of £26.5 million (€31.1 million) from a Belfast bank. The IRA was immediately suspected, and on 7 January, the head of Northern Ireland’s police stated publicly that he believed the IRA had carried out the robbery – an assessment that was backed by the Dublin and London governments.
The ensuing recriminations have divided nationalist opinion in Ireland. The Dublin government has been the most vitriolic critic of Sinn Féin, the party linked to the IRA, prompting the IRA to state last week that the governments were “underestimating the seriousness of the situation.”
Despite stopping short of calling for sanctions, the Dublin parliament was expected on Wednesday to pass a motion calling for an end to IRA criminal activity – such as smuggling and money laundering – which has burgeoned in the years since the ceasefire.
Paramilitary involvement in non-political crime has not been an issue discussed at any peace negotiations, before or since 1998. Sinn Féin has maintained that, as far as it is aware, the IRA did not commit the Belfast robbery.
Citing a historic distrust of the British police and security apparatus, Sinn Féin referred to allegations of state-loyalist/Protestant paramilitary collusion in assassinations. In related news, British Prime Minister Tony Blair was expected on Wednesday to apologize in parliament for the wrongful jailing of 11 people for IRA pub bombings in England in 1974. One of the accused, Guiseppe Conlon, died in prison. His son, Gerry, will be in the House of Commons on Wednesday. The story was the subject of an Oscar-nominated film, “In the Name of the Father,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis.Show