Real IRA leader challenges fund

Michael McKevitt was jailed for 20 years

Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt is to challenge the government's decision to give the Omagh bomb relatives almost £750,000.

McKevitt and four others are being sued for £14m by the Omagh Victims' Civil Action Group.

Papers lodged in the High Court in Belfast claim legislation allowing the payment was created for an improper purpose and was therefore void.

The Real IRA carried out the 1998 atrocity in which 29 people died.

The Lord Chancellor authorised the payment last year when he directed the newly-formed NI Legal Services Commission to assist the Omagh claimants with £742,702.

The money is being used to help fund their multi-million pound compensation claim.

McKevitt - who is serving 20 years in Portlaoise Prison - is seeking a judicial review of the legislation under which the payment was made.

His lawyers are to seek an order quashing the Lord Chancellor's decision.

'Standard of proof'

McKevitt, 54, from Blackrock in County Louth, Seamus Daly, Seamus McKenna, Liam Campbell and Colm Murphy - have been refused legal laid to defend the case which led to their lawyers deciding to pull out.

The papers lodged in the High Court state: "It is submitted that the proceedings, far from being compensatory, are intended to be accusatory.

"Though civil in character, the essence is an attempt to establish liability before a court of law for the most serious criminal offences.

"The proceedings are, effectively, a prosecution of the defendants using a civil standard of proof. As a consequence of not having legal aid, the applicant (McKevitt) now has no legal representation and cannot attend the hearing to defend himself.

"The proceedings will proceed without any input from him in circumstances where it is clearly the intention of the plaintiffs to hold the applicant criminally liable in the eyes of the public for the Omagh bombing."

Before a judicial review can be held, a judge has to grant leave and this preliminary hearing is expected to take place shortly.

In August 2003, McKevitt was jailed for 20 years in the Republic of Ireland after being found guilty of directing terrorism and membership of an illegal organisation.

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