Background and Real IRA activity
McKevitt, a native of County Louth joined the Provisional IRA during the outbreak of the Troubles. In February 1975 he was shot in the knees by the Official IRA during a feud between the two organisations. He was a longtime senior member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and served as the organisation's Quartermaster General, a role which gave him unique personal knowledge of the whereabouts of, and access to PIRA arms dumps. He quit the organisation in protest at the movement's ceasefires and its participation through Sinn Féin in the Peace Process which led to the Good Friday Agreement. McKevitt launched a dissident offshoot of the PIRA, called the Real IRA, using guns and weaponry he as the Quartermaster General of the PIRA had known the whereabouts of and had seized.
McKevitt was expelled from the Real IRA after a disagreement between a group of Real IRA prisoners in Portlaoise Prison and the outside leadership. The prisoners issued a statement urging the leadership to stand down claiming a criminal element had taken over. McKevitt and his supporters went on to form a group called The New Republican Forum.
Arrests, convictions, and appeals
McKevitt was convicted by the Republic of Ireland's non-jury Special Criminal Court on 6 August 2003 of two terrorist offences: "membership of an illegal organisation" (the Real IRA) and "directing terrorism" between 29 August 1999 and 23 October 2000. On 7 August 2003 he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. During his trial Mr. Justice Richard Johnson said of McKevitt, "The accused played a leading role in the organisation (Real IRA) which he directed and induced others to join." Given all possible reductions and remission, it means that the earliest he can be released is 2016. The prosecution's case was based largely on the testimony of an American FBI informant, David Rupert. According to information revealed in his trial, among his plans was to attempt the assassination of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
McKevitt appealed his convictions to the Court of Criminal Appeal, arguing that Rupert's testimony was unreliable since he had been paid large sums of money for his role as an informant (a total of £750,000 from the FBI and MI5), and because of Rupert's long criminal record. In December 2005, the court rejected these arguments and said that Rupert was a credible witness. Both of McKevitt's convictions were upheld. In July 2006 McKevitt was given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal was rejected on 30 July 2008.
In February 2014, The Irish Court of Criminal Appeal reversed its decision, thereby granting McKevitt the right to appeal his directing terrorist conviction
McKevitt is married to Bernadette Sands McKevitt, a sister of 1981 PIRA hunger striker and MP, Bobby Sands, who died during his hunger strike. Sands McKevitt was a leading member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and had been described in media reports as the third highest ranking Real IRA officer. She left the 32 County Sovereignty Movement following the imprisonment of her husband.
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