12 August 2005

Omagh horror

Belfast Telegraph

Seven years on... relatives gather to remember the dead

By Michael McHugh
12 August 2005

Relatives of victims of the Omagh bomb will gather this weekend to mark the seventh anniversary of the largest single atrocity of the Troubles.

Families will gather on Sunday at the memorial in the town to those who died in the Real IRA blast in August 1998.

They will hold an interdenominational service to be attended by British and Irish government ministers.

The chairman of the Omagh Victims' Support and Self-Help Group, Michael Gallagher, recently concluded legal proceedings in his unsuccessful battle for compensation and said this weekend would give cause for reflection.

"We are talking about this issue coming up to the seventh anniversary of the bomb and myself and my wife have not received one single penny of compensation," he said.

His son, Aidan, was killed in the blast.

The 21-year-old was one of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, slaughtered in the blast, which tore through the town centre full of shoppers on a Saturday afternoon.

The bomb sent shockwaves across the globe as people struggled to come to terms with the indiscriminate nature of the attack.

The town centre has been slowly rebuilt and those injured in the blast have worked to come to terms with the attack.

Mr Gallagher set up the victims' group in the wake of the bombing as a way for survivors and bereaved relatives to offer support to one another.

Countless families were affected by the tragedy, which occurred when shoppers escaping a security alert in another part of the town walked into the path of the bomb.

Mr Gallagher said: "The impact in Omagh was phenomenal. Almost every family in the town knew someone involved in the bomb.

"The whole area of compensation needs to be addressed.

"I was totally amazed at the speed at which London compensation was agreed - it was a lot quicker than in the case of Omagh."

Millions of pounds have been paid by the Government to victims of the Omagh bomb.

NIO Minister Lord Rooker and the Irish Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin, will attend the service.

Mr Gallagher said there were pressing problems which still needed to be addressed by both governments.

"After the blast I was walking in blood in the Tyrone County Hospital looking for my son and yet the Government was saying that they don't recognise the trauma which we have suffered," he added.

The lobbyist for the families said civil judgements had granted compensation to people who watched the Hillsborough disaster on television and said equal treatment needed to be given to victims here.

Kevin Skelton, who saw his wife of 20 years, Philomena, die in the street, said his family did receive compensation but are bitter about how they were approached by representatives of the NIO.

An NIO spokesman said: "The amount of compensation is determined by the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (NI) Order 1998 - £20.4m has been paid to date to those affected by the Omagh bomb."

The Gallagher family's compensation case was settled in Omagh County Court last month during a hearing which they failed to attend in protest at their treatment by the authorities.

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