18 August 1998
David Nolan explains what the Omagh tragedy means for the peace process
Following the explosion in the Northern Irish town of Omagh which killed 28
people and injured 280 more, many expressed concern that the bomb might
signal the end of the peace process. They need not have worried.
The Omagh bomb is best understood both as a product of the peace process,
and as something which has also acted to strengthen it.
The bomb itself was a side effect of the artificial consensus imposed
through the peace process. Under the direction of the British and US
governments, anybody in Northern Ireland who wishes to take part in the
peace process, whether nationalist or Unionist, has had to drop their
political principles, keep quiet about their differences, and move onto the
ever-widening middle ground. Those - both republican and loyalist - opposed
to this process have been left isolated and politically impotent. With
little popular support or influence, and no political alternative to offer,
they are reduced to lashing out against the peace process.
The Omagh bombing was the nihilistic response to the peace process of just
such an isolated minority. In this sense it is a product of the same
process which led to the murder of three young brothers in a sectarian
firebomb attack by loyalists on their home in Ballymoney, county Antrim in
Other international examples show that these sorts of tragedies are part
and parcel of peace processes the world over. In South Africa and
especially the Middle East there have been a number of bombs and shootings
which, it was claimed, threatened the peace process. Yet the peace
processes have continued regardless. Indeed these events strengthen the
hand of those parties running the peace process - in this case the British
and US governments.
In military terms, splinter groups of the kind blamed for the Omagh bombing
pose no threat. There is nothing to compare them with the organised
republican opposition of ten years and more ago. The British and Irish
governments have already indicated how easy they think it will be to pick
up those responsible.
In political terms, meanwhile, the supporters of the Anglo-American peace
process actually benefit from the Omagh bomb. Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and
Irish premier Bertie Ahern have used it to draw a new line of demarcation,
between the politics of peace and the politics of extremism. Anybody who
expresses reservations about the peace process can now be automatically
discredited by association and allied with the perpetrators of the bombs in
Omagh and Ballymoney. Far from being damaged, the artificial consensus
underpinning the peace process will be reinforced by that kind of pressure.
David Trimble, the Northern Ireland assembly's first minister, used the
bombing to strengthen his hand with dissident Unionists. Sinn Fein's Gerry
Adams and Martin McGuinness used the bomb to condemn their opponents in
republican splinter groups. It seems that everybody won, apart from the
dead and their families, the latest casualties of the peace process.
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