April 11, 2014 8:41 pm

Omagh charges overshadow last day of historic state visit

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Sabina Higgins, wife of the Irish president, Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II and President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins inspect the guard at Windsor Castle©PA

Sabina Higgins, wife of the Irish president, Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II and President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins inspect the guard at Windsor Castle

As Dublin and London celebrated a presidential visit on Friday that cemented a new era in relations between the two capitals, unfinished business from the Troubles was reopened.

Just before President Michael D Higgins said goodbye to Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle after a four-day state visit, a 43-year-old man named Seamus Daly was remanded in custody by a court in Dungannon after being charged with the murders of 29 people in a bomb attack in Omagh in 1998.

The Omagh bombing was the worst single atrocity in Northern Ireland’s Troubles. It was carried out by the Real IRA, an embittered splinter group of the Provisional IRA that was opposed to what was then a burgeoning peace process.

Nobody has ever been convicted in connection with the bombing. It occurred four months after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought a formal end to sectarian violence and was brokered by the Irish, British and US governments.

Mr Daly, originally from County Monaghan in the Republic, was arrested in Northern Ireland on Monday as he accompanied his pregnant wife on a visit to a maternity hospital. He said nothing during the 30-minute hearing at Dungannon magistrates court on Friday: he is due back in court on May 6 after being denied bail at the request of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Mr Daly was remanded to Maghaberry top security prison near Belfast.

The contrast between the scenes at Dungannon and Windsor Castle emphasised what many regard as a growing gulf between the relatively sunny optimism of relations between Dublin and London and a minority, but hardline, dissident view on both sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland. Mr Higgins and British leaders made only passing reference to Northern Ireland, in speeches during the state visit, though both sides have repeatedly cautioned that the situation there remains fragile.

Mr Daly is one of four men found liable for the Omagh bombing in a civil case brought several years ago by relatives of the victims, who included a woman pregnant with twins. He has always denied any involvement in the bombing.

The bomb was delivered from Monaghan, just across the border. The Real IRA claimed to have warned the police that a bomb had been planted and primed to explode. However, the warning appeared to have been misunderstood, and the bomb exploded as the public was being evacuated.

Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland secretary, last year ruled out a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the bombing, including allegations by victims’ relatives that intelligence about an imminent attack by dissident republicans was ignored or not shared by police and intelligence organisations in Ireland and the UK.

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