The police have failed to prosecute the four suspects identified as the bombers.
In August 1998 Irish republican terrorists detonated a massive car bomb in the centre of the Ulster market town of Omagh. Twenty-nine men, women, children and an unborn baby were killed in the explosion and the incident remains one of the most bloody atrocities of an era marked by grotesque events.
The men responsible were members of the breakaway Real IRA, a group led by the former Provisional IRA quartermaster who sought to sabotage the peace process that PIRA’s Army Council had engaged in.
The police have failed to prosecute the four suspects living over the border in the Republic identified as the bombers and it now emerges that the security authorities, on the day of the incident, had been monitoring their cellphone traffic as they crossed the border and delivered the bomb to Omagh.
The brief calls were exchanged between a car sent ahead to warn of any unexpected vehicle checkpoints placed on the route by the police, and the driver of the carbomb who also signaled the successful completion of his mission by saying “the bricks are in the wall”. Apparently RIRA terrorists favoured a rather crude building trade code to disguise thei true meaning of their conversations.
When the police came to investigate the bombing they were unaware that other branches of the complex security apparatus in Northern Ireland had kept the bombers under electronic surveillance, and it seems that secrecy was maintained to protect “sources and methods.” Since telephone intercepts are not admissible in court it was deemed pointless to disclose details of the operation to the investigating officers who, on other evidence, would trace the culprits.
The new controversy centres on whether it might have been possible to interdict the bombers while they were on their short journey to Omagh, but although there was real-time coverage of the telephone traffic, the officers monitoring the calls allegedly failed to realize their significance.
A BBC documentary by John Ware has charged that this failure was the motive for not offering the subsequent police investigation full cooperation, and the matter is now to be reviewed by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, headed by the ineffectual former Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett.
Unfortunately the ISC has no investigative resources and tends to repeat what it is told without applying much in the way of critical analysis, as was demonstrated by its report into the London bombings in July 2005. Having been told by MI5 there two incidents, on 7 July and again a fortnight later, were not linked, it turned out that the bombers responsible had very strong connections, but the ISC has not corrected its erroneous report.