Real IRA leader sentenced to 20 years in prison for directing terrorism

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Michael McKevitt, the Real IRA leader, was jailed for 20 years yesterday for his role in directing the terrorist organisation's activities.

McKevitt, 53, from Dundalk, Co Louth, was found guilty of directing terrorism and membership of an illegal organisation at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin on Wednesday. Although the court refused him leave to appeal, he has indicated that he may appeal to Europe.

In passing sentence, the court's three judges stressed that the offences did not relate to the Real IRA bombing of Omagh in August 1998, when 29 people were killed. The charges related to a later period.

Mr Justice Richard Johnson said: "The offences are for periods outside the date of the Omagh bomb and the court must not allow itself to seek revenge for the victims of that atrocity and does not intend to do so."

The judge added: "The court is satisfied the offences were planned and premeditated and contemplated to do serious harm to people and property. The accused played a leading role in the organisation which he directed and induced others to join."

A spokesman for the Omagh Victims Civil Action Group welcomed the sentence imposed on McKevitt, saying its campaign to take a civil action against the Omagh bombers would continue.

He said: "McKevitt's conviction has strengthened our determination but we still need £800,000 to fight our case. McKevitt, now a convicted terrorist, will have his defence paid for by the British taxpayer through legal aid."

Michael McDowell, Ireland's Justice Minister, welcomed the outcome of the case as "very successful", saying violent republicans were "blinded by hatred and by bitter, twisted logic".

McKevitt, who boycotted the court after claiming he had been denied a fair trial, made a brief appearance yesterday to ask questions about an appeal, legal aid and his period on remand. He was told the sentence would run from when he was arrested in March 2001.

McKevitt became the first man convicted in the Irish Republic of directing terrorism.

With the Dublin government operating a 25 per cent remission scheme for all criminals, and taking into account the time he has served on remand, McKevitt could be freed in early 2016.

Speaking after the sentence, Stanley McCombe, whose wife, Anne, was among those killed in the Omagh bombing, said: "We've had our life sentences. There's no remission for us."