DUBLIN — The founder of the Real IRA paramilitary group, responsible for the deadliest bombing in Irish history, failed Friday to have his 2003 conviction for "directing terror" overturned.
Lawyers for Michael McKevitt, who in 2003 became the first person in the Republic of Ireland to be convicted of the charge, had argued that the 63-year-old should be freed from prison immediately. They contended that the warrant used to search his home was illegal, and McKevitt was denied the right to a fair trial because he had fired his own lawyers midway through his original trial.
But the three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin ruled that McKevitt's complaint was "unarguable." It was the third straight failed appeal by McKevitt.
McKevitt was the former quartermaster general of the dominant Provisional branch of the Irish Republican Army. That position meant he had ultimate responsibility for hiding and managing the illegal group's arsenal of weaponry. When the Provisionals ceased fire in 1997 in support of peace talks, McKevitt led a breakaway movement that remained committed to violence. Irish media soon dubbed it the Real IRA.
The Real IRA opposed Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace settlement of 1998 with a series of car bombings. In August that year the group killed 29 people, mostly women and children, in Omagh when a car bomb detonated amid a crowd of shoppers, workers and tourists. Nobody was ever successfully prosecuted for those killings.
McKevitt received a 20-year prison sentence chiefly based on testimony from an American mole, David Rupert, who posed as a potential U.S. supplier of finance and weapons – but who instead passed troves of information to British and U.S. law enforcement agents identifying McKevitt as the Real IRA's chieftain.
McKevitt previously lost appeals against his conviction in 2005 and 2008, the latter before Ireland's Supreme Court. Two years ago he also lost an appeal against a 2009 civil court judgment finding him and three other Real IRA figures responsible for the Omagh blast. McKevitt, like the other three, has refused to pay 1.6 million pounds ($2.5 million) in damages to the families of Omagh victims as ordered.
The Real IRA faction officially merged last year with two other IRA splinter groups. Its commanders insist the united group's new name is simply IRA. Another faction, the Continuity IRA, has maintained its own identity.