Written Answers. - Northern Ireland Issues.

Dick Spring

Question:

27 Mr. Spring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has raised with the British authorities the concerns expressed by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Nuala O'Loan, regarding the conduct of the investigation into the Omagh bombing; the response he has received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3762/02]

On Saturday, 15 August 1998, a bomb exploded in Omagh killing 29 people and two unborn children. The reports by the Police Ombudsman and the Chief Constable into the investigation of that atrocity have generated considerable public discussion. As the Ombudsman herself has stated, we must not lose sight of the fact that the persons responsible for the tragic loss of so many lives in Omagh that day were those who planned and executed the atrocity. To date, one person has been found guilty of offences related to this bombing. However long it takes us, the other perpetrators of this evil deed must be found and held fully to account before the law.

On 12 December 2001, the Police Ombudsman issued a report which raised issues of very serious concern about the conduct of the police investigation into the Omagh bombing. The Chief Constable issued a detailed response on 23 January last. Both have presented their respective views to the Omagh families.

It is now a matter for the Policing Board to assess these reports and take this issue forward. Members of the board met with the Omagh families on 27 January and the board had separate meetings with the Ombudsman and the Chief Constable on Tuesday last, 5 February. That meeting was adjourned at a late hour and the board is meeting again today to continue its consideration of the issues arising from the two reports.

Since its inception last November, the members of the Policing Board have worked well together and they have endeavoured to deal with difficult issues in a sensitive and constructive manner. The Office of the Ombudsman, the Policing Board and the new police service are all key elements in the new policing arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is important that this matter now be taken forward in a manner which inspires confidence in the new policing order and reassures the relatives that those responsible for the Omagh bomb will be brought to justice.

One of the main recommendations of the Ombudsman's report was that an investigation team led by a new senior investigating officer, independent of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, be asked to conduct the Omagh bomb investigation. In his report, the Chief Constable opted instead to bring in an officer from an outside police force to act as an advisor to the senior investigating officer. We see merit in the recommendation to bring in an outside officer to conduct the investigation, particularly in circumstances where the confidence of the families in the police investigation is in question. This was done previously by the Chief Constable, for example, in the case of Rosemary Nelson. The Policing Board must now examine all aspects of the current situation, including the six recommendations made by the Ombudsman, and decide on the most effective way to take the police investigation forward.
I have had discussions about the issues raised by the two reports with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. John Reid. The Government's views have also been made known to the British authorities at official level on an ongoing basis. I intend to review the situation with Dr. Reid when we know the outcome of the Policing Board's consideration of the issue.