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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Omagh relatives get legal aid
Omagh atrocity
The perpetrators of the bomb are still at large
Relatives of 29 people killed in the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland will be able to apply for legal aid for the forthcoming inquest.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has decided that the circumstances surrounding the Real IRA explosion on 15 August 1998 were so exceptional he is to offer public funding to ensure the relatives of the victims can secure legal representation.

At present, legal aid is not provided for coroner's court proceedings in Northern Ireland.

In the latest move, it will only be available to those who would normally qualify for civil legal aid in civil proceedings.

Though the Lord Chancellor does not have the statutory power to allow funding in exceptional cases on a one-off basis in Northern Ireland, he is to establish an extra-statutory scheme for the forthcoming hearings.

Lord Irvine: Seeking extra-statutory powers
He is also to publish consultation proposals in the autumn setting out the criteria for judging applications for the assistance.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was among those killed in Omagh, has welcomed the announcement but said all the families should be entitled to legal aid.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Gallagher said: "It is a limited concession. It only applies to those who are entitled to legal aid. We feel it should be extended to everybody.

"Imagine the costs involved for the families not entitled to assistance.

"Costs to hire lawyers could amount to between 300 and 500 a day and that could mean a huge sum over a period of three to four weeks.

"The families will be at a low ebb and some will find the environment of a coroner's court intimidating. That is already a lot to bear.

Michael Gallagher
Michael Gallagher: Welcomed the announcement
"This announcement is good news, but limited good news. The bombers did not discriminate, so why, in these circumstances, should the government."

The inquest into the deaths of the Omagh victims is scheduled to begin in the County Tyrone town on 6 September and is expected to last up to four weeks.

David Leck, the minister responsible for Northern Ireland's courts, has written to each of the victims' families to inform them of the decision.

Some of the families live in England, the Republic of Ireland and Spain.

More than 2,000 people have been interviewed and over 3,000 statements taken by police investigating the bombing.

Nearly 80 suspects were questioned on both sides of the border.

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See also:

21 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Omagh investigation under review
17 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Omagh families seek online justice
20 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
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13 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Adams meets Omagh families
10 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Omagh families head to international courts
15 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Plea to PM over bomb atrocity
13 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Omagh bombers 'may never be tried'
16 Aug 98 | Latest News
Who are the 'Real IRA?'
18 Mar 99 | Focus
Omagh bomb claims 29th victim
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