Belfast Telegraph

Dissident chief McKevitt freed after spending 15 years in jail

By Martin Grant

The founder of the Real IRA terror group has been released from prison after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence for directing terrorism.

Michael McKevitt (65) has spent the past number of weeks on temporary release at his home in Blackrock, Co Louth.

However, he has now been formally released after his sentence expired on Easter Sunday.

McKevitt was freed from the E2 'Republican Landing" of Portlaoise Prison, an area reserved for republican prisoners. He was also convicted of membership of an illegal organisation after being convicted in the Special Criminal Court in Dublin in August 2003.

McKevitt, who is suffering from cancer, was one of four men found liable for the Omagh bombing in a civil action at Belfast High Court taken by relatives of the dead.

The Real IRA bomb killed 29 people and unborn twins on August 15, 1998.

Hundreds of people were injured, many seriously. Dozens were maimed for life. A warning about the bomb was unclear, leading people to flee straight into its path.

It caused outrage around the world and affected almost every family in the town and was the biggest single loss of life in the Troubles.

McKevitt was the first person in the Republic to be jailed for directing terrorist activities and was in custody since his arrest in March 2001.

In a statement released to the media, McKevitt has denied any involvement in the fatal bombing.

"I had no involvement in the bombing whatsoever. I was stitched-up from the outset," McKevitt said. "Within days of the bombing, I said that I had no hand, act or part in the bombing and that remains my position."

He added that British presence in Ireland is "illegitimate".

McKevitt said that in 2015 a number of medical issues arose while he was in jail.

He claims the intervention of his family and the assistance of "a number of TDs" secured his temporary release from prison.

It's not clear exactly what form of cancer he is suffering from or what the prognosis is.

When he was handed the 20-year jail sentence, McKevitt refused to leave his holding cell in the courts complex in Dublin to hear Mr Justice Richard Johnson deliver the judgment.

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

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