Northern Ireland news

One of the IRA's most influential leaders during the Troubles has died

Former IRA 'Chief of Staff' Kevin McKenna has died. Picture from Monaghan Sinn Féin Facebook page
Connla Young

One of the IRA's most influential leaders during the Troubles has died.

Tyrone native Kevin McKenna, who was aged in his 70s, had been unwell for a short time and is believed to have passed away at Cavan General Hospital surrounded by his family early on Tuesday.

Originally from Brantry, near Dungannon, Mr McKenna lived for many years in the Smithborough area of Co Monaghan, where he helped run a family pub.

As one of the IRA's longest serving leaders he was ‘Chief of Staff' from the early 80s to the late 90s and was in charge of the organisation when it called its 1994 ceasefire.

He also held other leadership roles throughout the 1970s.

He is believed to have been IRA 'Chief of Staff' when the organisation imported arms from Libya in the 1980s and is said to also have played a key role in the decommissioning process two decades later.

He kept a low profile and avoided media attention. A supporter of Sinn Féin's political strategy, he remained close to the party's leadership.

Former neighbour and fellow Tyrone republican Gerry McGeough said: “The McKenna family have deep roots in the Brantry area, where they are part of a wide network of inter-related families and Kevin was always held in high esteem locally”.

“Even though there has been a parting of the ways politically among many republicans in Tyrone most would agree that the sacrifices he and his family made during some of the toughest years of the conflict were considerable and no-one can take that commitment and dedication away from him.”

Family friend and Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP, Michelle Gildernew last night said he was “wedded to the peace process”.

“I knew Kevin really well and to me he was a man of courage, a man who played an active part in republican politics and showed great leadership for decades,” she said.

“He has been a good friend and mentor and good to me and someone I would have looked up to and went to for advice and guidance.

“He was totally wedded to the peace process and trying to bring about Irish freedom and equality.”

Mr McKenna's funeral will take place in Co Monaghan on Thursday.

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