BELFAST, United Kingdom: A man accused of carrying out the single worst atrocity of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the killing of 29 people in the 1998 Omagh bombing, was remanded in custody yesterday.
Seamus Daly, 43, a prominent supporter of the Irish republican cause, was denied bail by a judge at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court as police kept guard outside.
No-one has ever been convicted in a criminal court over the bombing, which tore through the market town only months after the signing of peace accords which largely ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
However, relatives of some of the victims brought a civil action against five men they claimed were responsible, including Daly.
In 2009, the Belfast High Court found that Daly and three other men were liable and they were later ordered to pay more than £1.6m ($2.7m) in damages to the relatives — money they are still pursuing.
Daly has always denied involvement in the bombing.
Unshaven and dressed in jeans and a dark grey hooded top in the half-hour hearing yesterday, he was refused bail on the grounds that he might try to flee across the border to the Republic of Ireland.
A detective told the court Daly was arrested as he accompanied his heavily-pregnant wife to a hospital maternity unit on Monday.
Daly claimed to be his brother when stopped by police but was identified through fingerprint analysis.
He has been charged with 29 counts of murder, two additional offences linked to the Omagh explosion and two linked to an attempted explosion in Lisburn in April 1998.
The prosecution case is based on phone, forensic and witness evidence, the unidentified detective told the court.
Daly’s lawyer Dermot Fee said there were “significant weaknesses” in the case.
Daly was remanded in custody until May.
Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aiden was killed at Omagh, was in court for Daly’s appearance.
He said earlier that the victims’ families had never given up their fight for justice.
“It has been a long, difficult struggle,” he told BBC radio.
“We have put the police, and both the British and Irish governments, under tremendous pressure and we continue to do that and we don’t apologise for it.
“We think of the people that we lost — in our case our only son Aiden — and that gives us the strength to carry on.”
Gallagher said the arrest of Daly would not side-track the families’ campaign for a cross-border Irish public inquiry into alleged failings by the security services in the lead-up and aftermath of the attack.
The British government last year ruled out holding a public inquiry. “We need the truth,” he said.
Acting on conflicting bomb warnings, police had moved shoppers and shop workers into a part of Omagh where a car packed with 500 pounds (225 kilogrammes) of explosives was parked, unwittingly putting them in close proximity to the huge blast.
A fireball swept from the epicentre of the explosion and shop fronts were blown back on to shoppers inside. The blast was so powerful that some of the victims’ bodies were never found.
The Real IRA—which sees itself as the successor to the Irish Republican Army paramilitaries — claimed responsibility for the attack.
Daly appeared in court as Irish President Michael D. Higgins completed a groundbreaking state visit to Britain, the first by an Irish head of state since independence.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, attended a banquet and a reception at Windsor Castle during the president’s visit, sparking protests from relatives of victims of the Northern Ireland conflict.