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Former Real IRA chief in fireball horror

Michael McDonald
Michael McDonald

FORMER Real IRA boss Michael McDonald was last night recovering in hospital after suffering serious burns in a fuel blast at his Co. Louth home.

McDonald, jailed for 30 years in a MI5 sting in which he and two other senior dissidents sought to secure US$1 million in funding, explosives, rocket grenades and guns from Iraqi operatives, is understood to have suffered serious burns to his face and body when fuel ignited in his Rathcor home in Louth.

Details of the cause of the accident remain unclear, but sources say the incident occurred while McDonald was working on the property.

“It appears he may have been careless while working with an accelerant, on what, was by all accounts, a very hot day,” a source said.

McDonald and two co-conspirators, Fintan O’Farrell and Declan Rafferty, were convicted in the U.K. in 2002 of trying to secure Iraqi sponsorship for a terrorist campaign and were jailed for 30 years each.

The men thought they were dealing with Iraqi agents at meetings in eastern Europe in 2001 when they were promised $1 million and huge amounts of explosives, rocket grenades and guns.

However, the “Iraqis” were undercover MI5 agents whose evidence led to the extradition of the three Irishmen from Slovakia for trial at Woolwich Crown Court in south-east London.

McDonald was recorded as telling the agents that the weaponry would be used “to bring a smile to your face”.

He was also recorded saying he was a leading member of the Real IRA who worked closely with the then leader, Mickey McKevitt.

“There’s eight people who make decisions, not just one person. Inside there’s me and McKevitt.

“McKevitt’s doing the weapons, that’s his job.”

Mr Justice Astill told the three men: “Whatever justification you can find for killing and maiming, it is the duty of this court to reflect the public’s revulsion at the suffering and grief you impose indiscriminately on the innocent.”

Ben Emmerson, QC, for McDonald, had suggested that the courts could create a “context” in which groups not engaged in peace talks might be encouraged to join.

However, in an apparent reference to the deal in which Provisional IRA prisoners have been released while the organisation is on ceasefire, the judge said: “There is two-way traffic where these extraordinary accommodations are made. Here, there were men before this court who were bent on terrorist offences. There is no two-way traffic.”

McDonald and Rafferty also admitted five charges under the Terrorism Act 2000 and O’Farrell three charges under the Act. They were given 12-year concurrent sentences for those offences.

The trio were repatriated to Ireland to serve out the duration of their sentences in Portlaoise Prison in 2006.

But they walked free from the prison in 2014 after the High Court ruled the warrants used to re-arrest them after they were repatriated were defective.

The issue relating to warrants concerned the fact the English regime provides for release of prisoners on licence after they serve two thirds of their sentence, or for those jailed after 2005, one half of their sentence.

The Irish system does not allow for release on licence, but provides for 25 per cent remission.

Mr Justice Hogan said, had the three men remained in the U.K., they would have been entitled to release on licence after serving sentences of 18 years.

However the 2006 warrants, under which they were detained here, recorded their sentences as 28 years and were therefore defective.