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 IRA and served as the organisation's Quartermaster General, with oversight of their arms caches. He quit the organisation in protest at the movement's ceasefires and its participation through Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland peace process which led to the Good Friday Agreement. McKevitt launched a dissident offshoot of the PIRA called the Real IRA, using seized PIRA weaponry.
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.
In June 2009, McKevitt was one of four men found by a civil court to be liable for the 1998 Omagh bombing in a case taken by relatives of the victims. In April 2014, The Telegraph revealed that McKevitt, along with Liam Campbell, were appealing the ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, citing their inability to cross-examine testimony of FBI agent David Rupert as a violation of their right to a fair trial.
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 against 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 heard a petition from McKevitt arguing that he should receive a new appeal based on an Irish Supreme Court decision in 2012 which ruled an unrelated Garda search of a suspect's home illegal. On 20 May 2014, the Irish Court of Criminal Appeal rejected McKevitt's bid to have his new appeal heard by the Supreme Court.
In August 2014, McKevitt petitioned for release on the on grounds that, per Rule 59 (2) of Irish prison rules, McKevitt has not been given proper consideration by prison authorities for a one third remission of sentence taking into account model inmate behavior, due to his conviction being under the Offences Against the State Act. On 1 September 2014, McKevitt withdrew his appeal and was granted release to prepare a new challenge based on judicial review. On 9 December 2014 his challenge was struck down by Dublin's High Court.
In March 2015, McKevitt was reportedly granted temporary release in order to treat a cancerous growth on his kidney. Subsequently, McKevitt underwent surgery to have the affected kidney surgically removed in May of the same year.
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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