Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt in bid to overturn terror conviction

Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt was held liable for the 1998 Omagh bomb in a landmark civil case

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The Irish Court of Criminal Appeal has reserved its decision on whether to grant Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt leave to appeal his terror conviction.

In 2003, McKevitt became the first person in Irish history to be jailed for directing terrorism.

In a landmark civil case in 2009, the High Court in Belfast ruled he was also responsible for the 1998 Omagh bomb that killed 29 people and unborn twins.

His appeal against his 2003 conviction centres on the legality of a warrant.

His lawyers have argued that McKevitt's conviction for directing terrorism should be set aside, because a search warrant used to search his home was issued under section 29 of the Republic of Ireland's Offences Against the State Act, which the Irish Supreme Court subsequently ruled was repugnant to the Irish constitution.

McKevitt's barrister asked the Court of Criminal Appeal to determine whether two questions were of sufficient public importance to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Firstly, he asked whether a subsequent judgement, which established that evidence brought forward against a convicted person had been obtained unconstitutionally, amounted to a newly discovered fact.

The second question the barrister asked the court to determine was whether an unconstitutional statutory provision must be raised at trial, prior to conviction.

In response, counsel for the state told the court that Mr McKevitt had failed in his trial and failed on appeal.

In those circumstances, he asked how somebody whose case ended many years before the Supreme Court ruling could raise the point subsequently.

"There has to be a point where you can't open the door," the state barrister said.

Michael McKevitt Michael McKevitt was the first person in Irish history to be convicted of directing terrorism

He told the court that the application was not made on the basis of any new fact but on the basis of a decision in law by the Supreme Court and it had not been argued whatsoever in the original trial some years ago.

The three-judge Court of Criminal Appeal reserved its ruling until a later date.

The Real IRA is a dissident republican paramilitary group that split from the mainstream Provisional IRA (PIRA) in 1997, in protest at the direction PIRA was taking in the peace process.

The following summer, the Real IRA carried out the worst single atrocity of over 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland when it bombed the County Tyrone town of Omagh.

No-one has ever been convicted in a criminal court of carrying out the bombing.

In the absence of a criminal conviction, relatives of six of the victims took a landmark civil court action against a group of men they believed were responsible for the attack.

In 2009, a High Court judge in Belfast ruled that McKevitt and three other men were liable for the Omagh bomb. The other three men were Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly.

All four men appealed against the civil court judgement, but McKevitt and Campbell lost their appeals in July 2011.

At that stage, Murphy and Daly won their appeals and they secured a civil retrial.

However, at their civil retrial in March 2013, Murphy and Daly were again found liable for the bombing when the judge described the evidence against them as overwhelming.

Nine months later, Murphy and Daly lost their appeals against the civil retrial verdict.

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