I have seen a few movies on the Troubles. Some were good, a few were outstanding. Omagh, I’m afraid, isn’t one of them. I’m not saying it isn’t sort of interesting as it explores, more than anything else, the reactions of the people affected by the “Omagh bomb”, namely the families of the victims, the support groups, the police and the politicians. But interesting doesn’t necessarily equal well done. I don’t mind TV productions but I’m not keen on shaky handheld camera, weirdly cut images and pseudo-documentary style. Blood Sunday (here is my review) has a very similar approach but was much better, I thought. Still, I didn’t mind watching it as I have always been interested in Irish history.
Omagh is a little town in Northern Ireland. On Saturday 15 August 1998, a car bomb went off in the town center, killing 29 people and injuring another 220. The beginning of the movie, focusing on one young man, Aiden Gallagher, and his family is very powerful. We know what is going to happen and to see them before the tragedy and knowing one of them is doomed, is quite uncanny. Also the anxious moments after the family hears that there was a bomb and their son and bother doesn’t return are very well done.
The responsible people for the Omagh bomb were the so-called Real IRA, a splinter group of the Provisional IRA whose members were opposed to the peace treaty. The Troubles are such a complicated chapter in Irish history and as much as the movie tries to capture this, for the outsider it stays quite confusing.
That the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Sinn Féin leaders condemned the attack didn’t help the families much. What follows Aiden’s burial, is a close examination of the aftermath of the bombing. Aiden’s father tries to get the help from anyone he can. Politicians and police alike. He joins a support group and together with their members they try to find out who is responsible for the bombing. They look for the individual names. After a while Michael is contacted by a man who was an informant and spying on the Real IRA. He provides him with a list of names. He pretends having given information on the bombing to an intelligence service way before it happened.
Michael tries to pursue this and investigates on his own, confronting the police but to no avail. After a few months he is so down that he has to let go and try to overcome the grief for his son.
Some months later the support group is summoned by the police. An ombudsman tells them that not only did they find proof that the informant told the people in charge about the bomb threat but that the intelligence service had also tried to cover it up. In doing so, evidence that could have led to arrests was lost.
“Bad management and lack of judgment of a senior intelligence officer” was the final verdict of the ombudsman. Sadly there were no consequences.
It makes me feel a bit bad to say that I didn’t like this film. It seems as if I was saying the incident wasn’t horrible. I’d like to emphasize, that this isn’t the case at all. What happened in Omagh is horrible but the way it has been filmed was just not convincing.