Exclusive by Peter Kelly
FORMER US Senator George Mitchell this week dramatically spoke of his solidarity and support with Omagh bomb survivors following the collapse of last month’s criminal trial against suspect Seamus Daly.
In an emotional address in Washington DC as part of proceedings marking the 18th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, President Clinton’s former Special Envoy revealed his dismay and anger at the lack of convictions for the Market Street blast.
He described his experience in Omagh as ”very emotional and very meaningful to me” and painstakingly recounted the details of the circumstances of the bombing to a hushed audience which included senior level diplomats, including Northern Ireland’s Representative to the United States, Norman Houston.
During his landmark comments Senator Mitchell recalled his visit to Omagh Leisure Centre with President Clinton days after the attack, and the powerful effect of meeting with victims’ families for several hours.
He spoke of his admiration for Claire Bowes (nee Gallagher) who lost her sight in the explosion, and Michael Monaghan who tragically lost three generations of his family “and a fourth one on the way” to the Real IRA bombers.
Addressing the survivors, he said, “It’s an enormous tragedy and failure of the justice system that no one has ever spent a day in prison for this terrible atrocity.
“I’m completely sympathetic with the victims, their anger and their outrage at that,” he added.
“To think that some murderer who – I can’t even begin to think what could be in anyone’s mind – doing something like this, would cause so much devastation and damage. And for no one to spend a day in prison for that.
“There remains an enormous failure.”
Senator Mitchell claimed a special connection to the town, while taking part in the discussion on sustaining peace and economic stability for Northern Ireland.
“It was such an awful, awful incident” he told the Irish-American audience. “I feel it personally, because I’ve been back to Omagh several times. And it’s such a terrible failure of the system.”
The former Maine politician and lawyer revealed in a recent book that he named his newborn daughter Claire, after being inspired by Omagh survivor and aspiring pianist, Claire Bowes (nee Gallagher).
Mr Mitchell who famously chaired the 1998 peace negotiations spoke on the Washington panel made up of former and current US Envoys to Northern Ireland from the Clinton, Bush and Obama White Houses.
The panel was contacted in the US capital by members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, whose question about the role of victims groups and justice after Good Friday dominated Tuesday’s wide ranging discussion.