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A message from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, following the Omagh Bomb, 18 August 1998

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A message from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, following the Omagh Bomb, 18 August 1998

What I saw in the Royal Hospital on Sunday night in Belfast will stay with me all my life. We sat together in a room ­ myself, the hospital staff, the families of the victims, talking between the tears.

There was the couple whose daughter was just a mass of bandages, drugs, wires, only her mouth visible. Her fiancé, who she was to marry shortly, in the burns unit fighting for his life.

There was the young man, silent, staring ahead of him, whose three-year-old daughter had died. There was the Spanish couple ­ lively, decent people ­ whose 10-year-old child lay unconscious a short distance from where we were sitting, her face cut, her arms and legs bearing the awful testimony of her injuries.

Other victims ­ slowly coming off the critical list ­ included a 14-year-old girl now blinded for life. I think, as any parent would, of my owns sons, or daughter. I know I would go mad with grief should it happen to them.

In politics as in any stressful walk of life, there are ups and downs. But this is different. With our children, we feel a call to protect stronger than anything else in nature.

And when the danger or injury is not an accident, terrible though that is, but deliberate human agency, the emotions are even deeper. There is a sense not just of anguish but of incomprehension.

How can anyone deliberately do that? How? Do they feel at all? Are they sitting there now in some place or other with any shred of remorse, even pity? It is a feeling of which rage is part, but it is more than that. It is a despair deeper than any normal human grief.

I know this and understand it, and feel it too. So I sat there with them, alternating between a sense of helplessness and my innermost self telling me what I know to be true: that even now, especially now, we cannot give up. And, indeed, each of the relatives told me that. Do not give up.

There will be anger at the politicians. How can you let it happen? It is understandable. We must absorb it and listen to it, but we must not lose our nerve.

This was an attack upon the whole community ­ nationalist, unionist and neither. It was perpetrated by a small group of dissidents who do not represent anyone, anywhere. Their very barbarity is a reflection of their utter isolation from any strand of recognisable opinion in Irish politics.

Some want to say it is all really the work of Sinn Fein/IRA. But it was the RUC Chief Constable, a man of utter integrity, who told me plainly yesterday that they were not connected with it, either explicitly or implicitly, and that there was no evidence it was their material that was used for the bomb.

And indeed, the purpose of the renegades is clear: to wreck the process we have started, to stop the Good Friday agreement, to portray Sinn Féin as traitors to the cause and to provoke a reaction of such despair that we give up.

So that we all go back to the days when large numbers of terrorists on both sides operating with real, if minority, political support perpetrated outrages every day, in place of resolving differences by democracy.

What happened on Saturday is in the past. If we give up and return to it, then they do win. Evil will have secured its objective.

We can defeat it, if we refuse to be deflected. We must and will take whatever sensible security measures we can to crush the rump of dissidents. And we will take them with the British and Irish acting together ­ another difference from the past.

But we must also carry on the process of establishing real democracy and dialogue in which all political opinions can argue their case in peace. That is the only alternative to this violence. There is no other. And I know my duty, even now, amongst the carnage and the tragedy is to carry on.

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