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Omagh families kept in the dark over McKevitt release

Victim Aidan Gallagher (21)

Relatives of Omagh bomb victims have complained that they were kept in the dark about the temporary release of jailed Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt.

Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aidan was one of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, killed in the 1998 atrocity, said families' treatment at the hands of the Republic's criminal system had been “basically inhumane”.

McKevitt, who is scheduled for release in July 2016, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 2003 after being convicted of directing terrorism.

In 2009, a Belfast judge ordered him to pay a share of £1.6 million in aggravated damages to relatives after being found liable for the attack in a civil case taken by relatives.

The 65-year-old Dundalk native, who underwent surgery this year for kidney cancer, was granted three-months temporary release from Portlaoise Prison on health grounds, but was returned to custody last week.

The dissident chief's family has claimed he was returned to prison on the orders of the south's justice minister, Frances Fitzgerald.

Five TDs - former Fianna Fáil minister Éamon Ó Cuív and Independents Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Thomas Pringle and Maureen O'Sullivan – have written to Ms Fitzgerald demanding a “full explanation” for why McKevitt's temporary release period was not extended on humanitarian grounds.

Mr Gallagher, who runs the Omagh Support & Self Help Group (OSSHG), said families had “no awareness” that McKevitt had been allowed out of prison.

“One of the deficiencies of the Irish criminal justice system is that victims are not kept up to date,” he said.

“We could have been visiting Dundalk or Dublin and could have walked into this man. It would have been common courtesy to contact us and let us know what was happening."

Mr Gallagher, whose group wants a public inquiry into the 1998 attack, also revealed that relatives had not had any contact from gardaí “for years”, adding: “We don't even know if the Garda investigation is still going on. We can't find out.”

He accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny of turning his back on victims, claiming that the Fine Gael leader had met relatives several times while he was in opposition, but has not talked to them since being elected to government in 2011.

“We couldn't even get to meet him when he was in Enniskillen [in November 2012, 2013 and 2014 to lay wreaths at the war memorial where 11 people were killed by the 1987 IRA bomb] and that's only 25 miles from Omagh,” he said.

He claimed the Omagh victims were “getting the same treatment from the Irish system” as those injured and bereaved in the 1974 loyalist car bomb attacks in Dublin and Monaghan.

He also criticised the five TDs who had written to the justice minister, saying: “It might be more appropriate for them to devote their energies to the victims, the people who have suffered and have been ignored”.

A spokesman for Ms Fitzgerald said decisions on temporary release were made “on the basis of the available medical evidence” and he insisted there was “no basis” for claims that the minister “in some way intervened” in McKevitt's return to prison.

“Mr McKevitt is, of course, liable to serve his sentence unless there are grounds which necessitate otherwise,” the spokesman added.

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