Now where’s the inquiry into Birmingham pub bombings?
A statutory public inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing was announced yesterday in the House of Commons by Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris.
It followed a campaign led by Michael Gallagher, the father of one of the Omagh victims.
Welcoming the government’s move, Shadow Minister Peter Kyle spoke of “contradictions” and “clashes” in the government’s handling of victims of various atrocities during the riots and after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.
Mr Kyle referred to the Birmingham pub bombings which left 21 people dead and more than 200 injured after two explosions ripped apart the Tavern in the Town and Mulberry Bush pubs on 21 November 1974.
The families of the victims have been calling for a public inquiry into the deaths of their loved ones through the campaign group Justice4the21 for years.
In 2019, a new investigation into the deaths of the victims was launched in the city, but the question of the perpetrators was ruled out by the coroner, leading families to claim they were left with many unanswered questions.
Julie Hambleton, whose eldest sister Maxine was killed in the bombings, said: “We could not be happier and prouder of Michael Gallagher and his family as this is monumental to them. It may mean now that they get some level of comfort about what happened. It will hopefully give them access to documents and information that have been withheld.
“Birmingham families are in the same boat but we cannot understand why the Government has not agreed to give us the public inquiry that we have requested. It creates a hierarchy of victims and gets my blood boiling.
“There is no difference between us and other victims, there is no less justification for our right to a public inquiry.”
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Kyle said: “The fact that the Northern Ireland Minister is calling for this inquiry is at odds with the Government’s overall approach to legacy issues. He has put the Omagh families at the center of today’s decision.
“I worry that other victims of atrocities will watch during the riots and wonder why their loved ones aren’t being treated in a similar way? For example, I speak regularly to the families of the victims of the Birmingham pub bombings and I am concerned about how this news will affect them. Victims are already noticing inconsistencies in the government’s approach to legacy issues.”
He said: “The Government has set out its logic as to why the atrocities committed in late 1998 qualify for a public inquiry and those before that do not, but it is a logic only understood within Whitehall.
“Many families still struggle with the loss of loved ones, and their grief is compounded by a lack of information or justice.
“They simply cannot understand why the crimes that destroyed their lives do not deserve treatment similar to that announced today, simply because of a date that seems appropriate to them for the needs of ministers but disrespectful of their needs as victims . ”
Mr Kyle said he believed the Northern Ireland Secretary was “a decent man”, adding Mr Heaton-Harris “needs to be assured that he is offering the same comfort and answers to all victims that he is giving to the family of families today offered by Omagh”. .
In response, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I actually think we’re being consistent.
“What has happened is that for hundreds, if not thousands, of families (in the) 25 years since the riots ended and the Belfast Good Friday Agreement came into effect, there has been no justice and no information about what happened.”