By Jack Holland
Lawyers for the families of the victims of the 1998 Omagh bombing have approached the Irish and British government for access to high-level information about the membership and structure of the Real IRA, which carried out the attack that left 29 dead, the worst single incident in the history of the Troubles.
The relatives of the dead are pursuing a civil action in court against five members of the RIRA, and are particularly interested in the relationship between the RIRA and the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, its political wing, which is known as the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in the U.S.
It is believed that much of the evidence requested was given to the U.S. State Department when the administration was preparing to designate the 32 County Sovereignty Movement as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” pursuant to the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996). The 32 County Sovereignty Movement was designated in May last year. The organization is contesting the designation in the Court of Appeals.
Reliable sources say that the head of the RIRA, Michael McKevitt, a former high-ranking IRA member, had it as a matter of policy that members of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee are also in the RIRA to ensure that the army controls the politics.
McKevitt is one of those being sued. His common-law wife is Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, whose brother Bobby was the first to die during the 1981 Hunger Strike in the Maze prison. She is the vice-chair of the committee.
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McKevitt is currently being held for trial in Portlaoise Prison in Ireland on charges of directing a terrorist organization. The main evidence against him comes from an American informer, Dave Rupert, who infiltrated the RIRA and Irish American groups here in the U.S. on behalf of the FBI and the British domestic security service, MI5. The case is believed to be going to trial in January next year.
The other four named in the suit are Colm Murphy, who is also in Portlaoise Prison and so far is the only man convicted in connection with the Aug. 15 attack, Seamus McKenna, Seamus Daly and Liam Campbell. Campbell is serving time in Portlaoise on membership charges.
It is understood that the information passed by the British and Irish governments asserts that leading members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement are also leading members of the RIRA. It maintains that the two groups are “inextricably linked.”
It is thought that Rupert is the source of much of the information in the hands of U.S., British and Irish governments. But other reliable sources are also believed to be operating within the RIRA, as many of its operations have been successfully disrupted in the last year. Previously, it had carried out a series of attacks in Britain, including a mortar strike against MI5 headquarters, a car bomb blast outside the BBC in London, and a car bomb attack in Birmingham. Just last week, the RIRA fired a grenade at a police car in Northern Ireland. Though it struck the target, it did not explode.
The revelation that Rupert was an informer broke last year and caused consternation in Irish-American organizations in Chicago and New York, with whom Rupert had been at one time close.