The father of a 12-year-old schoolboy killed in the Omagh bombing today confirmed he had held face-to-face talks with the political wing of the Real IRA.
Victor Barker, whose son James was one of 29 people killed by the Real IRA in August 1998, said he met members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in Swords, Co Dublin, last December in a bid to persuade them to abandon violence.
After the leaking of information about the secret meeting, Mr Barker said he did not regret the talks but understood the surprise of some families of Omagh victims on learning about the discussions.
He added: “I would meet them again.
“By meeting the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, I was not in any way legitimising the Real IRA’s campaign.
“I went there to help them understand what they did to James and other victims and to urge them to choose a path away from violence.
“We gave an undertaking on both sides that the meeting would remain confidential, although I am not naive enough to think that it would never, ever come to light.
“Everybody in situations like Omagh reacts in different ways and chooses their own way of dealing with the grief.
“This is a path that I chose to pursue.”
Mr Barker said the meeting was initiated by him.
It occurred on the same day as he met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin.
He said that the 32 County Sovereignty Movement had not pursued further dialogue with him.
“I gave then the opportunity to continue the discussion but that has never been pursued,” he said.
Mr Barker is not the only relative of a troubles victim who has met people linked to the killing of their loved one.
Former Senator Gordon Wilson, whose 22-year-old daughter, Marie, was one of 11 people killed during the Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday massacre by the IRA in 1987, met two representatives of the IRA at a secret venue six years later to dissuade the organisation from its armed struggle.
The Omagh bombing was the largest single atrocity in the history of Northern Ireland, killing 29 people, including a mother of unborn twins.
Only one person has been convicted of the atrocity.
Dundalk publican Colm Murphy received a 14-year sentence in January 2002 from the Special Criminal Court for plotting the car bomb attack.
Last month, a 34-year-old unemployed electrician from South Armagh became the first person in Northern Ireland to face charges connected to the attack.
Sean Gerard Hoey appeared in Craigavon Magistrates Court on 15 terrorist offences, including one relating to the Omagh bomb.
In August, Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt was convicted at the Special Criminal Court of directing terrorism, but faced no direct charges relating to Omagh.
The British government also announced in August that it was contributing £800,000 (€1.14m) towards a civil action taken by some of the victims’ families against five people they believed were involved in the attack.
Writs were served last year on Michael McKevitt, Colm Murphy, Liam Campbell, Seamus McKenna and Seamus Daly.