Irish officials asked UK to drop Omagh bombing information appeal, files show

Civil servants feared it would anger Sinn Féin and put the progress of the peace process in jeopardy

Irish civil servants wanted an appeal for information into the Omagh bombing dropped over fears that it would anger Sinn Féin and put the progress of the peace process in jeopardy.

The British government wanted to mark the second anniversary of the Omagh bombing with a joint statement from prime minister Tony Blair and taoiseach Bertie Ahern but Irish officials wanted it watered down to exclude the appeal, a move that was described as an over-reaction.

New government files from 2000 released by the National Archives in London show that the initial statement had a sentence that read: “We call on everyone with any information about the atrocity to share it with the police.”

The appeal came as a result of pressure from relatives who were frustrated at the lack of progress in the investigation. The 1998 bombing, carried out by the Real IRA, killed 29 people and was the deadliest single incident during the Troubles.

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While Irish civil servants backed the idea of a joint statement, they would not accept the appeal for information, according to a memo to Blair from Anna Wechsberg, his private secretary for foreign affairs. The Irish side feared that the next confidence building mechanism (CBM), a planned step as part of the peace process, would be threatened if the statement was included.

“They are worried that an appeal in this context would be read by Sinn Féin as a move against them, and put the next CBM at risk. We think the taoiseach himself has probably not been consulted, but there is no sign of movement at official level,” wrote Wechsberg.

The Northern Ireland Office believed the Irish were “over-reacting” and wanted the appeal kept in, although Wechsberg said this was unlikely to be accepted.

The British ambassador to Ireland, Ivor Roberts, said the three Irish departments involved – Foreign Affairs, Justice and the Taoiseach – wanted to steer away from “getting at” any political parties.

Other files show Ahern shut down suggestions in 2000 that the queen should visit Ireland over concerns about timing and security.

Blair floated the idea with the then taoiseach during a private discussion between the two men.

According to a memo of the meeting, Ahern was supportive of the idea but the time “was not yet right”.

“He was not certain that the security risks are yet manageable and he was mindful of the damage that could be caused by anything untoward happening,” wrote Michael Tatham, a diplomat, following the meeting.

“But this was something that should definitely happen after there had been further progress.”

Queen Elizabeth II made a historic state visit to Ireland in May 2011, the first UK monarch to visit the Republic.

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