Omagh: the case against a public inquiry

David McKittrick in the Independent with all his authority as the chronicler of individual suffering in the Troubles throws cold water on the case for a public inquiry into the Omagh bomb.

“For just as there are few moral absolutes in Northern Ireland, so the Omagh families have no absolute right to have the final say on what should happen in the justice system.This is a difficult and painful thing to articulate, given the terrible suffering these people continue to endure.”
Questions about the cost-effectiveness of the Bloody Sunday inquiry and some of the Cory inquires are alluded to, as well they might be . But he adds:

“Gordon Brown’s establishment of a review of the Panorama revelations was a sure sign that security agencies have a case to answer. It may also have been a device to ward off the calls for a full public inquiry. Governments have a reflex against setting up such inquiries, not least because, in cases like this, it is pretty obvious they will turn up damaging revelations about a secret world which functioned with little accountability.”

Another case against the families’ call for a public inquiry succeeding is the belief shared significantly by Lord Saville. that the post-Saville Inquires Act 2005 jeopardises an inquiry’s independence by giving the government the right to limit its timescale and costs. While the Hamill inquiry is being held under that Act the even higher profile of the Omagh case would be bound to highlight the act’s perceived flaws.

“Omagh may well hold more secrets that could undermine the new political system,” says McKittiick.
Maybe, David knows much more than I do, but this seems less likely than some cases, as no group associated with the system was allegedly involved – although their names may well have been known to the leading lights of today’s Sinn Fein ministers. Any secret talks between governments and C- or R- IRA in 1998, after secret talks had been so much a feature of the peace process, would seem unlikely to rock the system ten years on. Perhaps Omagh would link to a chain of collusion in the SB’s habits that remains unexplored in the Finucane and other cases, but on the face of it, it doesn’t seem a likely prime example. And after Stakeknife, and the Stephens inquiries, are there any real shocks left? I still have hopes that a credible reply from GCHQ would unlock more of the truth, if not now, later. In the meantime, is it really beyond the majesty of the law to postpone the families’ civil action for a few months?

Quote from Omagh families’ spokesman Michael Gallagher: “We welcome the swiftness with which the Government has moved on this.
It is indicated that this will take up to three months. We feel that the civil action now taking place, which will be over by that time, is the best possible way of using any intelligence or evidence gleaned from that.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London