The two leading Opposition parties tonight called for a cross-border inquiry into the Omagh bombing following revelations that MI5 withheld vital anti-terrorism intelligence.
The British domestic secret service agency received a tip-off that dissident republicans were targeting Omagh or Derry for a major bombing attack and used t to help to thwart a bomb plot at the time of the signing of the Good Friday Agreeent in April 1998.
But MI5 kept the police in Northern Ireland in the dark, according to authoritative security sources, and failed to pass on the information even after Omagh bomb outrage five months later which killed 29 people.
The Labour Party and Fine Gael said it was time to listen to the relatives of the Omagh bombing, who have been campaigning for years to get the truth.
“Today’s revelations merely underline the legitimacy of their calls for a full, independent cross-border inquiry,” said Labour’s Justice spokesman Joe Costello TD.
He said the way MI5 handled information in the lead-up to Omagh suggested people could have little confidence in their ability to prevent major atrocities.
“Of course, this does not shift the blame away from those cowards who planted the bomb that caused the deaths of 29 people. Hopefully, in time, all those responsible will be brought to justice.
“But it does ask questions about how intelligence was used and whether or not many of those lives could have been saved had information been shared, properly processed, and the warning signals acted upon.”
MI5 received the tip off from American FBI agent David Rupert, who was working undercover in the ranks of the Real IRA. He warned that Omagh or Derry – but most likely Omagh – was to be hit by a dissident republican unit based in Fermanagh and the Letterkenny area of neighbouring Co Donegal.
Three dissident republicans were arrested and later released without charge at the time of the foiled April 1998 bomb plot.
At the time, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was aware that a planned terrorist operation had been disrupted but according to security sources today, police found no trace on their records of any MI5 intelligence that Omagh, or Derry, was going to be a target.
Details emerged after inquiries in the United States where detectives investigating Omagh spoke with Rupert and examined emails which the agent once exchanged with his FBI and MI5 handlers.
Fine Gael Justice spokesman Jim O’Keefe said the failure by MI5 to pass on the information reinforced the need for a cross border inquiry into the Omagh bombing.
“I’m very surprised and disappointed to learn the situation could possibly have led to the prevention of this appalling murder,” he said.
“Even at this stage, explanations are called for about how this happened.”