Court convicts McKevitt on both charges

 

The leader of the "Real IRA", Michael McKevitt, yesterday became the first person in the State to be convicted of directing a terrorist organisation.

The leader of the "Real IRA", Michael McKevitt, yesterday became the first person in the State to be convicted of directing a terrorist organisation.

In a lengthy judgment, the Special Criminal Court in Dublin found the 53-year-old Louth man guilty of directing the activities of an organisation styling itself Oglaigh na hEireann (commonly referred to as the "Real IRA") under new legislation brought in after the Omagh bombing.

He was also convicted of membership of the same organisation. The court noted that the dates on both indictments were outside that of the Omagh bombing.

McKevitt was not present in court when the verdict was read out, having refused to come out of the holding cell in the non-jury court despite a direction from the court to do so.

In its 43-page judgment the court accepted the evidence of the key prosecution witness, Mr David Rupert, the FBI and MI5 agent who testified that McKevitt was the leader of the "Real IRA".

Mr Justice Johnson, presiding, said the court was satisfied that Mr Rupert was "a very truthful witness" who had considerable knowledge of the republican movement and who referred to people by name.

The witness knew the whereabouts of McKevitt's house and other houses at Oaklands Park, Dundalk and Greenore Road, also Dundalk, where he said he had attended engineers' meetings of the "Real IRA" and one army council meeting.

"Overall he had very considerable knowledge of the facts to which he testified," the court noted.

The court said it was particularly struck by the witness's ability to recall, on Day 4 and on Day 19 of the trial, the seating arrangements of a meeting in the Four Seasons Hotel in Monaghan, the first time he met McKevitt.

Referring to the "considerable amounts of money that the witness has received and continues to receive" from the FBI and MI5, Mr Justice Johnson pointed out that Mr Rupert was a "contracted and paid agent of the FBI".

He was not a supergrass or an informer, and "is and can be described as a witness under protection".

During the trial it emerged that Mr Rupert had received $1.25million for infiltrating dissident republican groups and has entered into negotiations with US journalists to write a book, for which he hopes to receive up to $1 million.

The court said that the defence had sought to discredit the witness and show him to be unreliable and untruthful. However, in the court's opinion, there was no proof that the witness offered "any deliberate false words".

In assessing their overall opinion of Mr Rupert, the judges took into account the demeanour of the witness and his testimony under cross-examination which lasted 11 days and was designed to test the witness's recall.

The court said it looked for corroboration to support Mr Rupert's testimony and pointed to the evidence of a number of gardaí. In this it paid particular reference to evidence from gardaí from the National Surveillance Unit, Det Sgt Healy, Garda O'Brien and Garda McGuigan, who placed David Rupert at various times in the company of McKevitt.

The court said that, in view of that, it rejected the suggestion that "Rupert and the accused Michael McKevitt never met".

Mr Justice Johnson said the court was satisfied that Mr Rupert's evidence relating to the instructions given to him by the accused constituted "directing" within the meaning of the section and was open to no other interpretation."

The court said it was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that McKevitt directed and controlled the activities of an unlawful organisation for which a suppression order was in existence.

The court found that "Michael McKevitt between 29th August, 1999, and 23rd October, 2000, both dates inclusive within the State, directed the activities of an organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army".

On the charge of IRA membership, Mr Justice Johnson said the court accepted the uncontested evidence of Chief Supt Michael Finnegan that the accused was a member of an illegal organisation.

"The court is satisfied to convict the accused on that evidence alone. However, in view of the credibility of David Rupert's evidence the court finds such evidence to be corroborative of the chief superintendent's evidence."

McKevitt declined to come up from the holding cells of the court to hear the verdict and instead sent up a handwritten note, which was not read out.

On the membership charge, the court accepted the evidence of Chief Supt Finnegan that the accused was a member of an illegal organisation on the relevant dates. The court said it was satisfied to convict the accused of membership on that evidence alone, but that Mr Rupert's evidence also supported that of Chief Supt Finnegan.

McKevitt (53), Beech Park, Blackrock, Dundalk, Co Louth, had denied both charges at his six-week trial, which concluded at the end of July.

After the verdict, Det Supt Diarmuid O'Sullivan, of the Special Detective Unit, told the court that McKevitt was a former quartermaster general of the Provisional IRA. He was one of those who left the Provisionals after an Army Convention in 1997 and who later formed the organisation styling itself Oglaigh na hEireann, which became known as the "Real IRA".

He told the court that it quickly evolved into a paramilitary organisation. From 1997 to October 2000 there were more than 100 incidents involving the "Real IRA", including explosions and weapons seizures.

Det Supt O'Sullivan said McKevitt had been a member of the IRA since the 1970s, and as quartermaster general was responsible for procuring arms and explosives, including the importation of large quantities of arms from Libya. He had no previous convictions.

McKevitt, who has been in custody since March 2001, will be sentenced today.

The offence of membership of an unlawful organisation carries a maximum sentence of seven years, while the charge of directing terrorism carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.