The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and its Irish counterpart today called for the appointment of a top judge to examine the need for a cross-border public inquiry into the Omagh bombing.
Professor Monica McWilliams, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Dr Maurice Manning, president of the Irish Human Rights Commission, urged British and Irish governments to review circumstances and events surrounding the atrocity to see if a public inquiry was needed.
They said the review should be along the lines of that carried out by retired Canadian Judge Peter Cory who examined allegations of state collusion in four high profile murders and recommended public inquiries.
Prof McWilliams and Dr Manning specifically proposed a serving or retired judge of international standing should examine all available material about the bombing in which 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed and hundreds more injured.
In an unprecedented joint statement they said “We further recommend that the purpose of such a review will be to determine whether it is appropriate to institute a North-South inquiry into the atrocity”.
Dr Manning said: “We certainly do not want to do anything that would prejudice any future trials or legal action. But we believe there is enough new material that has emerged which should help the person appointed to decide whether or not the truth about Omagh will be found through a public inquiry.”
Families of the victims have been calling for such a cross-border inquiry into the 1998 bombing for years – calls which have fallen on deaf ears in the corridors of power in London and Dublin.
The move by the two human rights chiefs came the day after the end of the 56-day trial of Sean Hoey, the south Armagh electrician charged with the Omagh bombing and a series of other attacks.
The judge involved in the non-jury trial is expected to return his verdicts on a total of 56 charges within two months.
In April a civil action by the Omagh families against five men they believe to be responsible for the bombing is due to begin in the High Court in Belfast.
Nearly three years ago Judge Cory recommended public inquiries be held into four murders because he said he had uncovered enough evidence to suggest state collusion in the killings was a possibility.
The murders were those of:
:: Catholic solicitor Patrick Finucane who was shot dead by loyalists in front of his family in their north Belfast home;
:: Catholic solicitor Rosemary Nelson who was killed by a bomb planted under her car which exploded as she drove away from her Lurgan, Co Armagh home;
:: Billy Wright, the loyalist paramilitary shot dead inside the Maze Prison by INLA inmates;
:: Robert Hamill, a Catholic who was beaten to death in Portadown, Co Armagh - there were allegations police sat back and watched;
Three of the inquiries have been opened, but the British government has yet to appoint a judge to head the Finucane inquiry.