The UK government has announced an independent inquiry into the 1998 Omagh bombing.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has confirmed he intends to establish the inquiry in response to a court judgment that directed the government to establish some form of investigation.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the Real IRA bombing, took the legal challenge that resulted in the judge directing the British state to act.

The dissident republican bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town on 15 August 1998, killing 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins. Hundreds more were injured.

Mr Heaton-Harris explained that he had listened to representations of those families affected by the atrocity alongside other factors, including its independence, cost to public purse and how best to "allay wider public concern".

Chris Heaton-Harris (C) met bereaved relatives Stanley McCombe (R) and Michael Gallagher last year

Speaking in the UK House of Commons, Mr Heaton-Harris said: "I intend to establish an independent statutory inquiry into the Omagh bombing.

"I have informed Mr Gallagher and members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, as well as representatives of Families Moving On of this decision.

"The inquiry will focus specifically on the four grounds which the court held as giving rise to plausible arguments that the bombing could have been prevented.

"The inquiry will also need to take account of the findings of previous investigations to avoid duplication."

Mr Heaton-Harris said he accepted this is a "significant" decision.

Families welcome inquiry

Mr Gallagher welcomed the announcement, saying: "The Secretary of State has given us everything that we have asked for, and we're very appreciative of that.

"It's still sinking in, to be honest, I think it's going to be a long time to come to terms with the fact that we're going to hopefully get the answers that we need and we can move on."

Mr Gallagher said the probe announced did amount to a public inquiry.

"My understanding is that it is a public inquiry, it's a judicial inquiry with powers of investigation and that's exactly what we wanted," he said.

"This is not a case of deflecting the blame from those who are responsible - that was the criminal terrorists who planned, prepared and delivered this bomb into Omagh. What we're looking at is the failings of the people that are there to protect us."

He said reliving the events of Omagh through the inquiry would be "difficult" and "painful" for the families, but added: "If we don't have this process, for the rest of our lives we're going to be wondering 'what if'."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland "will not be found wanting" in any inquiry into the Omagh bomb.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris said the Government will consider if there is any action it is required to take, following the announcement on establishing an inquiry.

Mr Harris said the Government "will now take time to consider that [decision], to see if there's any action that we're required to take on this side of the jurisdiction."

MPs were told that the Irish Government must open a similar investigation to the one announced by Mr Heaton-Harris.

DUP Strangford MP Jim Shannon told the House Commons: "I remember exactly where I was the day that the Omagh bomb atrocity took place and I remember the news being announced as well. It is a day back in August 1998 when we really appreciate all the efforts today.

"My party has previously supported the Omagh families' call for an Article 2-compliant investigation and I very much welcome the Secretary of State's announcement today."

Mr Shannon said that the bombing was "planned and assembled and transported from within the Republic of Ireland", and called for Irish Government there to set up a similar inquiry, adding: "Would the Secretary of State agree that unless there is such an investigation it is unlikely that the full truth about what happened that day will be brought to light?"

Mr Heaton-Harris told MPs that the UK government could not compel the Irish Government to open an investigation.

But he added: "We are talking to each other on a whole range of different issues in a much more constructive way than we have done for a decent while, and I know we will have - actually some of the discussions on things like this can be quite tough on both sides - but they are being done in a respectful way and I know that both sides are wanting to do the best by all the people that we represent."