McKevitt facing life in prison for offences

 

"Real IRA" leader, Michael McKevitt, will be sentenced in the Special Criminal Court today for directing terrorism and membership of an illegal organisation. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

It is the first time in the history of the State that anyone has been convicted of directing terrorism, a new charge introduced in the aftermath of the Omagh bomb. In the North, UDA leader Johnny Adair was convicted of the same charge.

It is understood McKevitt's legal team will appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal and perhaps, ultimately, to the European Court of Human Rights. McKevitt (53) Blackrock, Co Louth, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

His conviction was welcomed by the Omagh bomb families who said they at last had reason to hope.

"This judgment is a great step forward in our fight for justice," said Mr Victor Barker, whose son James (12) was killed in Omagh. "We now know what we suspected all along - McKevitt is a terrorist, a leader of the 'Real IRA', a man who has the blood of innocent people on his hands." The verdict was condemned by the "Real IRA" leader's wife, Ms Bernadette Sands McKevitt, who said her husband would fight to clear his name.

Mr Justice Richard Johnson stressed yesterday that McKevitt was found guilty of offences on dates after the Omagh bombing.

In a 44-page judgment, he was convicted of membership of an illegal organisation "styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA" between August 29th, 1999 and March 28th, 2001. He was further convicted of directing the activities of the same organisation between August 29th, 1999 and October 23rd, 2000. McKevitt was not present when the verdict was read out, having refused to come out of the holding cell.

The three judges found that the chief prosecution witness, FBI agent Mr Dave Rupert, who infiltrated the "Real IRA", was a truthful witness and his credibility had not been impugned.

The judges said McKevitt's conversations with him and instructions to him regarding becoming the "Real IRA's" US representative constituted "directing terrorism" under the legislation.

Mr Rupert, a controversial businessman and twice-declared bankrupt, was flown out of Ireland to a high-security secret location after a fortnight in the witness box.

Det Chief Supt Martin Callinan described McKevitt's conviction as a "significant result".

He praised Mr Rupert for becoming a witness - "it was a very brave thing to do". However, he warned that dissident republicans continued to present a security threat and were not finished.