'Real IRA' trio jailed for 30 years for part in bomb plot


Three members of the "Real IRA" were each beginning 30-year sentences yesterday for their involvement in a large-scale bombing conspiracy. The three were said to be "at or very close to the heart of the organisation".

Sentencing the men at Woolwich Crown Court, Mr Justice Astill said that regardless of pressures from within their Co Louth town to become involved with the "Real IRA", they had made personal decisions to take part in a plot to kill and maim innocent people in Britain and Ireland.

"That decision was made in the wake of the horrific results of the bomb in Omagh," Mr Justice Astill told Fintan Paul O'Farrell (39), Declan John Rafferty (42) and Michael Christopher McDonald (44), who pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to cause an explosion.

"What you agreed to do, you must have realised would have led to similar acts because that's the aim of the organisation you serve. Whatever justification you can find in your hearts and minds for the killing and maiming, it's the duty of these courts to reflect the public revulsion for the suffering and grief you impose on the innocent," Mr Justice Astill added.

The three men were arrested in Slovakia in July last year and extradited to Britain following a complex investigation by undercover MI5 agents posing as Iraqi arms dealers.

The court was told that the MI5 sting, codenamed Operation Samnite, began after a US intelligence agent, Mr David Rupert, penetrated the "Real IRA".

He discovered that the group was seeking help to buy weapons and explosives from countries such as Iraq.

An MI5 agent, posing as an arms dealer, telephoned a number supplied by the IRA in January last year. Mr Richard Horwell, prosecuting, said the call was answered by Mr Michael McKevitt, a "Real IRA" leader, and during several calls over the following weeks a meeting was set up between the undercover agents and Rafferty, McDonald and O'Farrell, to help Mr McKevitt travel to Iraq.

At various meetings in Slovakia and Hungary between April and July, the three men discussed their requirements with the agents, including a request for £1.5 million, 500 kg of explosives, 500 handguns, 2,000 detonators, 200 rocket-propelled grenades and a wire-guided missile.

All the meetings, one of which included a chilling declaration from McDonald that the "Real IRA" campaign would not end until the British government withdrew from the North, were secretly taped.

The men were given 12-year concurrent sentences in relation to the weapons charges.

O'Farrell pleaded not guilty to two charges in connection with obtaining funds and weapons and these were left on file.