Recently I wrote about the commemoration of the Ballygawley Bus Bomb 25 years ago in which eight British soldiers were killed. I heard two women who were eye witnesses travelling in a coach following behind the bus with the young squaddies tell their story about what it was like that night at the scene, which they were visiting again for the first time since that awful night in August 1988. Painful memories came back to them during the couple of minutes they spent answering a question from a local journalist. It was just one example of how we have still to deal with the grief and trauma in the wake of the ‘troubles’.
Before the ceremony near Ballygawley on the main A5 road, I travelled to Omagh and visited the memorial garden where flowers had been left to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Real IRA bomb. An opportunity to reflect on how a group of relatives of those who died is still trying to seek justice.
This morning they received the news that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers MP had decided the British government would not be holding a public enquiry into the bombing. The attack on August 15th 1998 was the worst single atrocity of the ‘troubles’. 29 people dead, including a woman pregnant with twins. Ms Villiers said it was not an easy decision to make and all views had been carefully considered.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden (21) was among the victims, condemned the decision, describing the reasons given by Ms Villiers for ruling out a public inquiry as “trivial”. Members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group are seeking a judicial review. But another group of relatives Families Moving On including Kevin Skelton whose wife Philomena (39) was killed in the bomb believes a public enquiry will not achieve anything.
All this has emerged on the same day that Amnesty International produced a report on Northern Ireland and dealing with the past. The 78-page investigation ‘Time to Deal with the Past‘ finds that victims and their families have been failed by successive attempts to investigate abuses. It says that without the political will on all sides to acknowledge and confront past abuses, the lessons of history will go unheeded and the pain caused by Northern Ireland’s past will continue to cast a long shadow over its future.