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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 19:37 GMT
Living with the Omagh legacy
Michael Barrett, victim of the Omagh bomb
Michael Barrett: Witnessed the blast, lost his best friend
After three and a half years of waiting, the victims of the Omagh bomb have witnessed the first conviction of someone linked to the worst single atrocity of the Troubles.

But as BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani found out, the conviction of Colm Murphy has done little to ease the town's pain.

Michael Barrett should be having the time of his life. He's 26-years old, in steady employment and has a cheery demeanour.

But while friends may meet and shop in Omagh town centre, Michael stays away for fear of reliving the bomb that has defined the last three years of his life.

Michael was in Omagh on Saturday 15 August 1998 when the bomb exploded, killing 29 people and injuring hundreds more.

Aidan Gallagher, the best friend who he was with at the time of the explosion, was one of those killed.

We cannot escape from history. But if we can get justice, that is one step on the road away from vindictiveness

Father Kevin Mullan
Michael escaped - though it is hardly an appropriate word. He suffered shrapnel wounds and burns that kept him in a specialist hospital unit for three weeks.

To this day he still won't enter the town centre. He will drive only so far down the High Street and then he turns away.

For Michael there is little peace in the conviction of Colm Murphy for his part in the conspiracy.

"It seems like yesterday to me," he said.

"Today I am pleased that someone has been found guilty. But at times I think they will never be brought to justice. All I know is that I have lost my best friend.

"And all the time that I think of it, I become angry. I start thinking that maybe the police were to blame, but then they didn't drive a car into the town and blow it up.

"I just feel that more has to be done."


Aidan's father, Michael Gallagher, is one of those who has sought to do more.

As the spokesman for many of the victims and their families, he has become their public face on the nation's television screens, constantly pressing the case for justice, pressing the case for resolution.

Twenty nine people died in the bombing
Before the bomb, he ran his mechanics business with his son.

Michael Gallagher's mission for the past three years has been that of the families he represents - but it has been a lonely mission.

"There is such a deeply-held sense of frustration and depression," said Mr Gallagher.

"Sometimes you cannot see where it will end."

That frustration comes from an increasingly held view among many of the families that they have been let down.


Two prime ministers and a US president promised that they would do all they could to find the culprits.

Only one man has been convicted of conspiracy, not the actual bombing itself.

Mr Gallagher said he thinks the anti-terrorist legislation passed in the wake of the Omagh bomb has been "ineffective".

Father Kevin Mullan of Christ the King Church, Omagh
Father Kevin Mullan: Pity for bombers
"And I think that part of the reason why is because the British Government did not want to offend republicans," he continued, referring to the delicate nature of peace process politics.

He and other families also have deep reservations about the nature of the investigation as the row over the Police Ombudsman's report into the case drags on.

"Sometimes I just don't know what the victims can do more than they have done already.

"We are pursuing a court action, trying to work out if the police made mistakes. But surely it is up to the governments, not the victims, to deal with this?"

Town of ghosts

For local priest Father Kevin Mullan, there is a sense that Omagh is perhaps excluded from the peace process because the perpetrators of the atrocity do not want to share in the peace.

On the Monday following the bomb, Father Mullan delivered a deeply moving Thought for the Day on Radio Four.

Omagh, he said, was now a town of ghosts. But he also spoke of wishing one day to meet the bombers and simply ask them why.

Today, looking out from his church opposite the Omagh army base and its 20ft high security walls, that is a conversation he still wants to have with people he has come to pity rather than hate.

"I would want to talk to them as human beings and see if they realise what has happened to this town and the people," he said.

"I would want them to hear us first, but also hear that Omagh can be a forgiving community."

Father Mullan says the small quiet market town cannot escape the legacy of the bomb. But at the same time, its people must not allow themselves to become defined by what happened.

"This was a town that took itself for granted," he said. "Now we are having to make a conscious effort to reinvent ourselves. That is a very, very hard thing to do."

Michael Gallacher's son was killed in the explosion
"There's a message that people can't get away with what they've done"
Click here for the full special report

Ombudsman report

Bomb trial verdict

Archive - the blast:

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