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What is a public inquiry?

Public inquiries are investigations set up by the Government to respond to events of major public concern or to consider controversial public policy issues. Once established, an inquiry is independent of Government. Unlike proceedings in a court, an inquiry is an ‘inquisitorial’ process, meaning it is a search for the truth relying on the investigation of evidence by a judge, rather than an ‘adversarial’ process (where two or more parties present arguments through advocates to prove, or defend, an issue). While inquiries cannot determine criminal or civil liability, they can highlight where failings have occurred. 
Inquiries can be either statutory or non-statutory. Statutory public inquiries are established under the Inquiries Act 2005, granting them a wide range of powers, such as compelling witnesses to give evidence under oath. Statutory inquiries run according to the Inquiry Rules 2006, which provide a statutory guide for the chairman, and include detailed rules on evidence and procedure. Non-statutory public inquiries are not established under a specific Act of Parliament and therefore do not have the same powers granted by the legislation.
The Omagh Bombing Inquiry is a statutory inquiry, established under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Who is the Chairman of the Inquiry and what is their responsibility?

The chairman of an inquiry is appointed by the minister who commissioned the inquiry. The chairman must have the ’necessary expertise to undertake the inquiry’ as outlined in the Inquiries Act 2005. They will decide the procedural rules and protocols and have ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the inquiry, the publication of the final report and any recommendations.
The Chairman of the Omagh Bombing Inquiry is the Rt Hon Lord Turnbull. Lord Turnbull is supported by a team of legal and secretariat staff; you can read about Lord Turnbull and his team on the About us page.

What is a Core Participant?

A Core Participant is a person, institution or organisation that has a specific interest in the work of the Inquiry, and has a formal role defined by legislation. Core Participants have special rights in the Inquiry process. These include receiving documentation, being represented and making legal submissions, suggesting questions and receiving advance notice of the Inquiry’s report. You do not need to be a Core Participant to provide evidence to the Inquiry.
The Inquiry opened an initial window for applications to become a Core Participant as part of the Omagh Bombing Inquiry from February to April 2024. Our Protocol on applications for Core Participant status governed this process and contains more information on how the Chairman determines Core Participant status. If you missed this window and are interested in applying to be a Core Participant, please contact the Inquiry legal team at

What will the Omagh Bombing Inquiry investigate, and why has the Government only established one now?

On 2 February 2023, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP, announced that he would establish an independent statutory inquiry into whether the bomb detonated in the town of Omagh in August 1998, which caused the loss of 31 lives and injured hundreds of others, could have reasonably been prevented.
The Government announced the Inquiry in response to a High Court judgment, which found there were specific issues which might suggest that the bombing could have been prevented.

Is the Inquiry independent from Government?

The Chairman and the Inquiry team operate independently from the Government, and from Core Participants and other organisations involved in the Inquiry. The Inquiries Act 2005 gives the Chairman the legal authority to direct the Inquiry’s procedure and conduct as he sees fit.
The relationship between the Inquiry and its sponsor department, the Northern Ireland Office, is documented and agreed. It is the Secretary to the Inquiry’s role to manage that relationship and ensure the Chairman and Inquiry’s operations are independent and free from any undue influence.

Is the Inquiry investigating who prepared and planted the bomb, and does the Chairman have the power to prosecute or convict individuals?

The Chairman and his legal team do not have the power to prosecute or convict individuals. The responsibility for all that occurred on the day lies squarely with those terrorists who made, transported and planted the bomb. It is not the Inquiry’s role to determine who those individuals were, and it does not have the power to determine any individual person’s criminal liability. Instead, it is the Inquiry’s role to establish the truth of whether the terrible events of 15 August 1998 could have been prevented.

Where will the Inquiry be held?

The Chairman has yet to decide where all the Inquiry’s hearings will be held. He has announced a first preliminary hearing in Omagh on 30 July 2024, and has committed to inviting families and survivors to commemorative hearings in Omagh at some point later in the year 2024. Hearings that follow, at which evidence will be produced and witnesses will be questioned, may be in Omagh, Belfast, elsewhere in Northern Ireland or indeed in London. The Chairman will decide on the hearing location, or locations, based on a number of factors. The Inquiry secretariat and legal teams will be based in both Belfast and London.
As much as possible, the hearings will be live-streamed so that the public can watch proceedings without attending the hearing in person. There may be times when hearings will be held in private, for reasons of confidentiality or national security for example. These are called ‘closed hearings’. The Chairman will only take evidence in closed session where he judges it is absolutely necessary to get to the truth.

How can individuals find out more about the Inquiry and provide relevant information?

All up to date information about the Inquiry can be found on our website. The website will contain recent and updated open documents, information about the Inquiry’s team, ongoing work and investigations, and details on how to get in touch with the Inquiry. We will publish regular updates with the progress of the Inquiry.
If you have any information regarding the subject of the Inquiry’s investigations, please email

 How will the Omagh Bombing Inquiry be run?

The Inquiry formally started in February 2024. During the first stage of the Inquiry, the legal team will be working with organisations who are likely to provide the material and evidence on which the Inquiry’s investigations will be based. The Chairman has legal powers to compel people or organisations to provide whatever material he sees fit. He has announced he will hold a preliminary hearing in Omagh on 30 July 2024.
The Inquiry invited applications from anyone to be designated as a Core Participant (details about Core Participants can be found earlier on this page) from February to April 2024, and during the early stages of the Inquiry, the Chairman is likely to identify a draft list of issues that will frame the Inquiry legal team’s investigation. The Chairman has also stated he wishes to invite families and others affected to commemorative hearings in Omagh later in 2024.
The Inquiry will also be opening a window for applications from anyone to be designated as a Core Participant (details about Core Participants can be found earlier on this page).
Once the evidence gathering phase has been completed, the Inquiry will hold evidential hearings, at which evidence will be presented, and witnesses will appear and be questioned. As with the initial material provision, the Chairman has powers to compel witnesses to attend.

The Chairman will issue a report with his conclusions and recommendations once he has considered all the relevant evidence. He may also decide to issue interim reports on specific subjects before publishing a final report. 

How long will the Inquiry last, and how much will it cost?

It is difficult to predict the length and cost of the Inquiry at its establishment. This is because it depends on factors that are currently unknown, including the amount of material and evidence the Inquiry will need to consider, and the number of witnesses the Chairman will wish to call to give evidence. In order to get to the truth of whether the bombing could reasonably have been prevented, the Chairman must be able to adopt a forensic approach to the Inquiry’s investigations, and cannot cut corners in order to save money. The bereaved families and survivors of the bombing would expect – and deserve – nothing less.

The Chairman has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to avoid unnecessary cost, and the Inquiry’s Secretary – as its accounting officer – has a responsibility to achieve value for money in compliance with HM Treasury’s Managing Public Money. The Inquiry will publish financial statements on a quarterly basis, which will show how much it is spending in carrying out its work.

What is a Preliminary Hearing?

A preliminary hearing is one of the first steps in a public inquiry to set the direction of the Inquiry. It allows the Chairman to consider procedural issues relating to the conduct of future public hearings and the Inquiry’s investigation.