LONDON (AP) — The U.K. government said Thursday it will hold a public inquiry into whether the deadliest bombing in Northern Ireland’s decades of violence could have been prevented.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris announced an independent probe of the 1998 car bombing in the town of Omagh that killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and wounded hundreds more. An Irish Republican Army dissident group, the Real IRA, claimed responsibility.
A court ordered the government to investigate in response to a legal challenge by Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed by the 225-kilogram (500-pound) bomb. Gallagher alleges that intelligence failings allowed a “preventable atrocity” to occur.
Heaton-Harris said the inquiry “will focus specifically on the four grounds which the court held as giving rise to plausible arguments that the bombing could have been prevented,” including whether security services had advance intelligence of the bomb. It will have the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath.
Heaton-Harris said he hoped the decision to hold an independent inquiry “gives some comfort to those families who have long campaigned for this outcome.”
The attack on Aug. 15, 1998 came months after the Good Friday peace accord largely ended three decades of conflict known as “the Troubles.” Major Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups gave up violence and disarmed, but small splinter groups continued to mount attacks.