BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Omagh visit for Ahern

Omagh visit for Ahern

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is to visit the scene of the Omagh bombing during a one-day visit to Northern Ireland.

Mr Ahern will travel by helicopter between engagements throughout the province on Thursday. No major protests are anticipated during Bertie Ahern's visit

Although the taoiseach has made frequent trips to Northern Ireland for political discussions, this type of visit is a rarer occurrence.

Mr Ahern will first meet SDLP leader Mark Durkan in Derry before travelling to Coleraine to give a keynote speech on the political process.

He will then head to Omagh for his first visit since he attended a prayer service in the County Tyrone town shortly after the August 1998 Real IRA bombing.

Mr Ahern will meet local politicians and relatives of people killed and injured in the bomb, which was the single worst atrocity in 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.

Mr Ahern will visit the scene of the Omagh bombing which killed 29 people

Some relatives, including Michael Gallagher whose 21-year-old son Aidan died in the bomb, are staying away in protest at what they see as the "token" nature of the visit.

Michael Gallagher, spokesman for the relatives, said: "Our group will not be represented when Mr Ahern visits Omagh.

"We have been asking for a meeting with him for five years, but when I asked how long we would be able to meet with him, I was told the most we could hope for was five to 10 minutes."

He added: "We want a proper sit-down meeting, not a photo opportunity for the Taoiseach."

At about the same time as Mr Ahern's visit to Omagh, they will be in Dublin to meet Enda Kenny, the leader of the main Irish opposition party, Fine Gael.

Mr Ahern will round off his trip in Belfast where he will meet the city's Lord Mayor, Martin Morgan, as well as councillors and community workers.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said such a trip might have been considered a "security nightmare" in the past.

But following recent contacts between Mr Ahern and loyalists as well as talks with the DUP, Irish Government officials say no major protests are expected.

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