By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The families of the Omagh bomb victims have appealed for efforts to bring the killers of their relatives to justice to continue following an admission by Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne that they "probably" will never be caught — even though he knows who carried it out.
In an interview with the Belfast Irish News, the commissioner said leads in the hunt for the real IRA unit behind the August 1998 atrocity that killed 29 and injured more than 200 others "have very much reduced."
When asked if he thought the masterminds of the attack would escape conviction, he told the newspaper: "Sadly, possibly and maybe probably."
After publication of the interview, a Garda spokesman assured the people of Omagh that the resolve of the force in their investigation would not wane.
In his interview, the commissioner said: "When you . . . know who carried out the thing what you are trying to do now is get the evidence to link them and they are very much trying to ensure that you don’t get the evidence to link them.
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"Intelligence is no good. If I could prosecute people for all the intelligence information I had on them, I can tell you a lot more would be in jail.
"There is a price to be paid for democracy — that a person is innocent until proven guilty."
Byrne also said he believes the Real IRA did not set out to kill, but that the atrocity was "a tragic cock-up."
Michael Gallagher whose 21 year old son, Adrian, died in the blast, said the families feared that the commissioner’s statement could be a forerunner to the investigation being scaled down.
Gallagher who is chairman of the Omagh self-help group, said Byrne’s interview had come completely "out of the blue" to the families and he felt they should have been made aware of it beforehand.
"It is very, very difficult for us to deal with this," he said. "To find that the people responsible for such a heinous crime, a mass murder, will not be brought to justice is very difficult for us to accept. We will be pressing both governments to keep this as a live inquiry."