The Omagh bombing: Government response - Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Contents

Omagh bombing: Government response

1. Our report The Omagh bombing: some remaining questions was published on 16 March 2010.[1] Under normal circumstances, we would expect the Government to respond within two months, on or around 16 May. In view of the forthcoming dissolution of Parliament and the general election, we asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for a speedy response. That response is published as an appendix to this Report, along with letters from the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.[2]

2. We are grateful to the Government for making every effort to respond so quickly. We appreciate that it has done so within just three weeks of our publishing the Report. Our inquiry lasted 18 months, involved consideration of many documents, took oral evidence from eight sets of witnesses, including the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and was considered at 19 of our meetings. We accept that such a swift response could not cover every matter raised in the necessary detail.

3. Even allowing for the time constraint, however, we must express deep dissatisfaction with, and disappointment at, the quality of the response provided. The Government has not fully addressed the unanswered questions identified by our Report. We make the following points in the hope that any Northern Ireland Affairs Committee constituted after the 2010 general election will continue to pursue them.

4. First, the Prime Minister and the Government again reject our request that our Chairman be allowed, on our behalf, to read, under whatever conditions the Government may wish, the full report provided by the Intelligence Services Commissioner, Rt Hon. Sir Peter Gibson, on intercept intelligence relating to the Omagh bombing.[3] We remain of the view that this refusal is unreasonable, and we again ask that the Gibson review of intelligence intercepts relating to the Omagh bombing be made available to our Chairman.

5. We would also note that the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has seen the full Gibson report, but which is not a Committee of Parliament, has made no reference to it in any publication.

6. Secondly, we found it regrettable, in recommendation 13, at paragraph 57 of our Report, that Sir Peter Gibson had been unable to interview all the witnesses whom he considered relevant. In its response, the Government suggests that Sir Peter was unable to interview witnesses because the BBC Panorama reporter Mr John Ware would not reveal his sources. This relates in no way whatsoever to what Sir Peter told us about those whose identities were known to him and who refused to give evidence:

"the PSNI suggested a list of people in the police or former members of the police whom I should interview. I interviewed all of them save for one person who was not willing to be interviewed [...] Apart from another policeman, who again did not wish to be interviewed, I do not believe there was anyone whom I wanted to see whom I did not see".[4]

Our Report quite clearly refers at paragraph 57 to police officers known of by Sir Peter Gibson who refused to co-operate with his private inquiry. Rather than seeking to criticise a journalist protecting his sources, the Government should respond to the point we made about the limits of Sir Peter's inquiry.

7. Thirdly, the Government appears to contradict itself over whether the Omagh bombing requires further inquiry. The Secretary of State in his covering letter reiterates his view that all relevant matters were adequately considered during the 2001 inquiry by the then Police Ombudsman, Dame Nuala O'Loan (now Baroness O'Loan). The response adds that "We do not believe a further inquiry would provide anything beyond what the Police Ombudsman's investigation and Sir Peter Gibson's report have established".[5] The response also notes, however, that both the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have indicated "that we intend to await the publication of Lord Saville's Report into Bloody Sunday and the outcome of the work on the Consultative Group on the Past before making any decision in relation to a public inquiry".[6] We seek clarification of whether the Government believes further inquiry is necessary into the way in which the Omagh bombing was investigated. We entirely fail to see why any inquiry into the Omagh bombing need be contingent on the outcome of the entirely separate Bloody Sunday inquiry.

8. In conclusion, we strongly urge our successor Committee and the Secretary of State, whoever that may be after 6 May, to consider again the important points made in our Report, which we do not believe have been sufficiently thoroughly addressed in the attached response.

1   Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, The Omagh bombing: some remaining questions, Fourth Report of Session 2009-10,16 March 2010, HC 374 Back

2   Appendix one, including letters from the Prime Minister, 17 March 2010, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, 1 April 2010.  Back

3   Intelligence Services Commissioner, Review of intercepted intelligence in relation to the Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998, published 16 January 2009. The published review is a summary of the full report. Back

4   Oral evidence, 13 May 2009, Q 127, published in Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, The Omagh bombing: some remaining questions, Fourth Report of Session 2009-10, 16 March 2010, HC 374, Ev 21-22. Back

5   Paragraph 10 of the appendix Back

6   Paragraph 21 of the appendix. Back

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