Michael McKevitt, who has been repeatedly accused of being the former IRA quartermaster-general who founded and led the Real IRA, has denied any connection with the Omagh bombing. His partner, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, is said to be terrified that she and her children might be attacked.
Ms Sands-McKevitt yesterday appeared on a popular Irish radio phone-in programme to assure listeners: "I don't agree with violence such as we have witnessed. I would prefer we see this done by peaceful means."
The comments from the couple coincide with two statements from the Real IRA. The first of these indicated that its campaign would continue while the second announced that "all military operations have been suspended". Taken in conjunction, all of this suggests disarray in the ranks, though there are real hopes in security circles that the second announcement may signal a genuine ceasefire.
A Dundalk priest, Father Desmond Campbell, revealed that Ms Sands-McKevitt had telephoned him on Sunday after he said during mass that it was disturbing to know that the chief suspect for the Omagh attack lived in his parish.
He said that Ms Sands- McKevitt, sister of the IRA hunger-strike martyr Bobby Sands, wept uncontrollably during the conversation, adding: "She was crying so much she could hardly speak. She told me she was afraid for herself and her children. She said she was frightened because there was a march planned and she was afraid that somebody would hurt her children.
"It was a despairing thing when they rang me. She broke down and cried and said, `We are terribly upset about what is taking place. It is my children. I am frightened out of my life that they will do something to my three children. They are supposed to be converging here on the home and I am worried sick'."
Fr Campbell added that Mr McKevitt then took the phone and told him he had "no hand, act or part" in the Omagh bombing. He said Mr McKevitt told him: "The first I knew about it was when I was listening to the news on Saturday evening, and it came on. That was the first I knew about this bomb that went off in Omagh, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with it."
A more composed Ms Sands-McKevitt said on RTE radio yesterday that she did not know why she and her husband had been singled out by the media. Of the bombing she said: "It is condemned. We will not condone it. The loss of innocent lives cannot be justified. I don't agree with violence such as we have witnessed. I would prefer we see this done by peaceful means, because that is the only way forward."
Ms Sands-McKevitt, a leading member of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, added: "As a committee, that is what we are trying to do. What I am saying is that there are always people who have been engaged in violence.
"If we don't address the problem how are we going to solve it. The Good Friday agreement fell short of addressing the problem."
She added that she was sure the people behind the bombing would be brought to justice.
Residents of Dundalk are to stage a rally on Saturday in an effort to dissociate the town from violence. One of the organisers, solicitor John Woods, said: "This is a town that has suffered greatly. We will not have it that people will portray the image of Dundalk as a politically violent town - the El Paso image."Reuse content