Northern Ireland news

Micheal McKevitt attacks Sinn Féin on his release from prison

Former Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt attacked Sinn Féin on release from prison

FORMER Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt has launched a stinging attack on his erstwhile republican comrades by accusing Sinn Féin of exploiting the Easter Rising commemorations.

The 65-year-old was speaking after being released from Portlaoise prison where he had been serving a 15-year sentence for directing terrorism and IRA membership.

Prior to his release, the one-time Provisional IRA quartermaster general is understood to have spent recent weeks on temporary release at his home in Blackrock, Co Louth.

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. In a statement issued after his release on Sunday, he denied having anything to do with the Real IRA bomb that killed 29 people and unborn twins on August 15, 1998.

"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 described Omagh as "one of the worst tragedies of the conflict" and alleged that the atrocity could have been prevented but for a "conspiracy that involved three government agencies - MI5, FBI and the Irish to a lesser degree, along with their informants".

"The bombers, whoever they were, were mere pawns in a much larger and more sinister political gameplan," he said.

His statement went on to describe the British presence in the north as "illegitimate" and he refused to disown the continued campaign of violence by dissident republican paramilitaries.

"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," the statement said.

"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."

McKevitt's statement attacked his former Sinn Féin colleagues and questioned the party's claim to be republican.

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

"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."

Married to Bernadette Sands, the sister of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, McKevitt broke away from mainstream republicanism in 1997 and became an arch critic of the Sinn Féin leadership.

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