Omagh (2004)

 “We would like to call into account the security forces and the police and the politicians in London, Dublin, and Belfast who have promised us so much but have singularly failed to deliver.”

Omagh is a made-for-television film directed by Pete Travis that examines the story behind the Omagh bombing that took place on August 15, 1998. The bombing–carried out by the Real IRA (a splinter group of the provisional Irish Republican Army)–killed 29 people and left approximately 220 wounded. The bombing took place in the middle of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

omagh1In October 1997, the Real IRA or True IRA formed after splintering from the Provisional IRA and its ceasefire agreement. On August 15, 1998, the organization placed a 500 lb bomb in a stolen car that was parked in a busy downtown market area of Omagh. Bomb warnings were then called in, but in spite of the telephoned warnings, civilians were actually redirected closer to the bomb.

The film Omagh charts the bombing and its after effects on the families of the victims and concentrates its story on the family of Michael Gallagher, whose only son Aiden was killed in the blast. Once the bombing was over, both the British government and the Provisional IRA were determined to continue with the peace process, but the families of the victims wanted those responsible for the bombing to be caught and punished.

At first the families are shown trying to seek arrests through the accepted channels. One Omagh resident patiently keeps writing letters to Tony Blair expecting to get some sort of personal response, but as time goes on, no one is caught and charged with the crime. Omagh residents become increasingly frustrated. A town meeting results initially in frustrated name-calling, but then Gallagher emerges as the chairman of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group.

But after all the official waves of sympathy passed away, the residents, survivors and families of victims were still left with nothing. Referring to British politicians, one resident concludes that “as long as the bombs stay out of London, they don’t give a damn.” In spite of the fact that the names of those involved in the bombing were known on both sides of the border, no one was charged with the crime. Mobile phone call records yielded names of prime suspects, but still no one was charged. And this is when the victims and their families get sick and tired of waiting for results and begin to do some legwork of their own. Amidst stories of multiple advances warnings from British agent Kevin Fulton, the entire Omagh episode becomes even murkier.

Omagh underscores the idea that the IRA and the splinter Real IRA are just as inaccessible, institutionalized, remote and largely disinterested as the British government. And as for the Real IRA members who carried out the bombing, this action proves the argument against using violence to further a political agenda. If the Real IRA were ‘counting’ on the British Government and the local police to warn the residents, we can see just where that illogical sort of reliance and trust led–right into the toilet. It’s a bit pathetic when you think about it. Here you are–the Real IRA devoted to kicking the British out of Ireland, and the best you can do is plant a huge bomb and then expect the police and the British government (institutions the Real IRA supposedly abhors) to do the honorable thing and warn the people. The British government wants one thing, the IRA wants another, but ultimately the people of Omagh were screwed. Was the Omagh massacre the result of police incompetence or was this a disaster that was allowed to happen in order to further a political agenda? Well watch this well-acted, riveting and eloquent film and decide for yourselves.

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Filed under Irish, Political/social films

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