Omagh (2004)

 

 

 

Director:     Pete Travis

Starring:     Gerard McSorley (Michael Gallagher), Michele Forbes (Patsy Gallagher), Brenda Fricker (Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan), Stuart Graham (Victor Barker), Peter Ballance (Mark Breslin), Pauline Hutton (Sharon Gallagher), Fiona Glascott (Cathy Gallagher), Kathy Kiera Clarke (Elizabeth Gibson), Claire Connor (Caroline Gibson)

made for TV

aftermath of the 1998 IRA bombing that killed 29 people in Omagh, Northern Ireland

The outcome of the movie is a little hazy because the actual events and the justice findings were a little hazy.  This makes for a somewhat unsatisfactory ending, but that's the way the real situation was anyway.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Very good movie.  August 15, 1998.  An interviewee on the television says that the highlight of the year was the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.  The television is in the home of the Gallaghers: Michael (the father), Patsy (the mother), Sharon (a sister), Cathy (another sister) and 21-year old Aiden (the son).  Aiden works with his father in a car repair business.  The day of August 15 he goes into downtown Omagh with his friend. 

Men are making what looks like a fertilizer-based explosive. They fill up two cars with the explosives and drive them into the center of Omagh and park them on the street.  One of the bombers puts in a warning call: Courthouse; Main Street; 30 minutes; 500 pound bomb.  The police are not certain what street is main/Main Street.  They arrive and start evacuating people down the hill, but to the cars filled with explosives. 

The bombs go off and it is mass confusion and pain.  29 people die from the explosions with many more wounded and/or mangled.  Michael learns of the bombing and is worried that Cathy is downtown.  But it is Aiden who is downtown.  Now Michael has the huge task of finding out what has happened to his son.  He cannot go into the bombed area, so he goes to the local hospital.  But he has a long wait.  They finally find Aiden's body and Michael has to identify the corpse.  Michael hears that the bombers were of the radical group, the Real IRA, who are opposed to the abandonment of the armed struggle in the Good Friday Agreement. 

Two months later.  Laurence Rush, whose wife Libbi died in the explosion, calls Michael to get him to come to a meeting of the families of the victims of the bombing.  They learn that 38 people have been arrested, but all have been subsequently released.  Michael, with his controlled calmness, is chosen as the chairman of the Omagh Self-Help and Support Group. 

One of their first tasks is to speak with Chief Superintendent Eric Anderson.  They don't get any real answers.  They organize a protest outside the meeting place of the Real IRA. And they then talk to Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein who is very frank with them:  there won't be much progress on the matter because no one wants to slow the momentum of the peace process.  They seem willing to overlook the crime in return for peace. 

The support group now has a list of 18 suspected perpetrators of the bombing.  But no one is really interested in the names and the Irish Garda will not cooperate with the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary). 

Michael meets with a mole for the RUC, Kevin Fulton, who tells him that he knew something big was going to happen in Omagh, but not what it was.  He had informed the RUC about this but they did nothing with the information.  Michael then speaks with another informer, John White of the Garda's National Surveillance Unit.  He tells Michael: "I was told they were gonna let it go."  Why?  Perhaps to discredit the Real IRA.  But there won't be any prosecutions for Omagh.  "They made a deal: declare a cease-fire and we won't prosecute."

Back home, Patsy is sinking into a deep depression.  Sharon confronts her father and tells him that he is not helping the family.  Michael has become obsessed with the investigation and has forgotten his family and their sufferings.  And perhaps Michael has also forgotten about his own mental health. 

Chief Constable Flanagan meets with the group and white-washes the scandal created by the informers Fulton and White.  He denigrates the characters of the two men and says they cannot be trusted.  He even says that Fulton made up things for money.  He also warned that the entire matter is highly sensitive and cannot be openly investigated.  Michael leaves the meeting very discouraged.  He philosophizes that there have been some 2,000 unsolved murders since the beginning of the Troubles and so why should Omagh be any different.  He goes home and tells his wife:  "I'm staying home now."

Six months later.  There is a meeting with the committee chaired by Police Ombudswoman Nuala O'Loan.  She tells the assembled audience that Fulton's reports of something terrible coming were disregarded.  But there was no report in his files that he was deemed unreliable.  In fact, he was regarded as a reliable informer.  The Special Branch ignored other information: a warning call on August 4 that something was going to happen.  No one followed up on the warning.  Only 22% of the documents dealing with the case were made available to the investigating committee.  O'Loan reported that Chief Constable Flanagan's judgment and leadership were seriously flawed and that everyone had been let down by defective leadership, poor judgment and lack of urgency.  Therefore, the chances of detaining and convicting the bombers had been significantly reduced. 

Michael tells the press that this was the first time the full story had come out and that he thanked O'Loan for that.  He followed this with the statement that the support group would begin their own legal actions against the bombing suspects. 

A total of 94 arrests were made with no convictions.  An official inquiry by the Irish government found that the Garda did not withhold information about the Omagh bombing.  Suspects McKevitt, Liam Campbell and Seamus Daly were convicted of other terrorist offenses, not for the Omagh bombing.

 

The movie was very good.  It really captured the suffering of the Gallagher family as well as other families, relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing.  It was very moving.  It also dealt with the danger of becoming so obsessed with a terrible disaster that the warning signs of serious mental illness and family deterioration are not seen or are ignored.

Another big issue is an ethical one.  Does one pursue one's own desire for justice even if it harms the peace process, thereby possibly helping to create more victims of the Troubles?  Each person had to make their own decision.  Laurence Rush was the most uncompromising about his seeking of justice, but was he too uncompromising, forgetting the larger picture?  Michael was more in the middle.  Let's hope that he found some consolation in the knowledge that his family's sacrifice did contribute to the peace process.  The hope of the Real IRA was to destroy the peace process by the bombing.  By compromising, the Gallagher family helped defeat this Real IRA goal. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

 

Omagh is a town of only about 17,300 people located in an agricultural hollow in county Tyrone, Northern Ireland. 

1973 (May 17)  --  five off-duty soldiers killed by an IRA car bomb in Omagh. 

1997  --  provisional ceasefire. 

1998 (August 15)  --  at about 2 p.m. a stolen car was parked by the SD Kells clothes shop on Market Street in Omagh.  The areas was packed with shoppers.  Inside the vehicle were 300 pounds of fertilizer-based explosives with a semtex trigger.  

The car bomb went off.  The bombing was carried out by a splinter group of the Provisional IRA, called the Real IRA.  29 people were killed and about 220 wounded.  Those killed included both Catholics and Protestants and some Spanish tourists. 

Nualan O'Loan, the Police Ombudswoman, strongly criticized the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) for incompetence.  The RUC failed to act on relevant intelligence and misinterpreted the warning messages and actually moved the people of Omagh closer to the actual bomb site. 

It was believed that 5 men of the Real IRA were the perpetrators.   

2001  -- bomb-builder Colm Murphy was convicted for the crime.

2005 (Jan.)  --  a re-trial ordered for Colm Murphy because of police misconduct.

2005 (May 26)  --  Sean Hoey was charged with the murders. 

2006 (Feb. 24)  --  it was revealed that both the MI5 and the FBI knew of the plan to bomb Omagh, but did not inform the local police. 

The Real IRA said it was two MI5 agents who actually carried out the bombing. 

 

 

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