NewsCrime Desk

Head of RIRA released from Portlaoise prison

Michael McKevitt
Michael McKevitt

The founder of the Real IRA has been released from prison after serving 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 Sunday.

McKevitt was released from Portlaoise Prison where he served his sentence for directing terrorism and was also convicted of membership of an illegal organisation after being convicted in the Special Criminal Court in August 2003.

McKevitt, who has 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.

In a statement to the media, McKevitt denied having anything to do the atrocity.

"I had no involvement in the bombing whatsoever. I was stitched-up from the outset," he 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 also refused to state that dissident republican paramilitaries should end their campaign of violence in the North.

In a statement, he said: "It is immaterial as to whether I agree or disagree - armed struggle or guerrilla warfare is a tactic which has been around for hundreds of years.

"Historically, the only form of resistance in Ireland that the British actually took notice of was armed struggle like they did in 1916 and in every decade since."

As quarter-master general of the IRA, McKevitt broke away from the Provisionals to form the Real IRA in 1997 and become a high-profile opponent of the Adams-McGuinness leadership.

Speaking about the 1916 centenary, he claimed it had become popular "to be seen and heard rebel rousing" but that many of those involved had no right to do so.

"Political parties of all persuasions are tripping over themselves to commemorate the violent uprising of 1916. How can they, who have accepted the partition of Ireland, lay claim to the legacy of 1916?"

McKevitt launched a stinging attack on his former Sinn Féin colleagues and questioned the party's claim to be republican, as he was released from prison.

"When I look at Sinn Féin, I believe their behaviour is akin to that of the looters on the streets of Dublin in 1916.

"They have turned the centenary commemoration into a financial racket, exploiting it for all they can. Shameful is probably the best description that I can use," he said.

He added that the British presence in Ireland was "illegitimate".