Former Provisional and Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt has died following a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Bernadette Sands McKevitt, sister of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.
The Louth man remained a republican soldier since joining the Provisional IRA in the early days of the conflict. He rose to the position of quartermaster general, in charge of the IRA’s armaments.
In 1997, dissatisfied with the direction of peace negotiations, he was one of the leaders of the breakaway group which became known as the ‘Real IRA’. His wife also helped to found the political organisation, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, around the same time.
His involvement in the split in the Provisional movement was referred to in reports on this year’s release of state papers. The split had been predicted by British and Irish officials, who noted that “the present Sinn Féin leadership had difficulties with militants in their organisation and might not eventually bring all of them with them”.
This was indeed the case, and the Real IRA went on to sustain a forceful armed struggle against British rule.
However, Mr McKevitt’s group was immediately the focus of an unprecedented MI5 campaign of infiltration, manipulation and demonisation, particularly around the infamous Omagh bomb in August 1998.
In August 2003, he was jailed on charges relating to his leadership of the Real IRA, based on the word of double agent David Rupert. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and was eventually released in 2016 amid failing health.
Republican Network for Unity today described Mr McKevitt as “a fearless and committed Republican soldier”
“He was a visionary who seen the writing on the wall long before it was totally evident,” they said.
He was described as being “committed to the welfare of the prisoners as he was to his active soldiers on the outside” while in Portlaoise jail, where he was the Officer Commanding on E-Block.
They added: “We and the entire Republican family remember Michael fondly as a comrade, a friend and above everything else as a committed Republican leader, who fought the might of the British establishment throughout his entire life.”
A statement from Saoradh released on their website sent “revolutionary condolences” to his family.
“A formidable and dedicated Republican, Michael was heavily involved in guerrilla warfare after joining the ranks of the IRA in the 1970s and went on to become to become a senior member of the IRA Army Council.
“Michael McKevitt was to the fore in resisting British occupation his entire life and spent many years in prison for his unflinching attitude of revolt.
“Revolutionaries like Michael made the Irish Republican Army one of the most successful and revered guerrilla armies in the world.”
Anti-Imperialist Action also paid tribute. They said Mr McKevitt had always fought for the sovereign independent All Ireland Republic established in 1916 “and never wavered from his principles or his commitment in the fight for freedom.
“Rest easy, Soldier of Ireland. Ní bheidh a leitheid arís ann.”