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Wednesday, August 19, 1998 Published at 18:49 GMT 19:49 UK

Bobby Sands' sister condemns bombers

Newspapers have linked Michael McKevitt with the bombing

The partner of the man widely implicated in media coverage of the Omagh bomb blast has condemned the atrocity in a live radio interview.

Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, sister of republican hunger striker Bobby Sands who died in the Maze prison, also welcomed the Real IRA's suspension of violence.

Bernadette Sands-McKevitt condemns violence
She said of the bomb attack which killed 28 people: "It is condemned. We will not condone it. The loss of innocent lives cannot be justified.''

But she said she did not know why she, her partner Michael McKevitt and Omagh councillor Francis Mackey, were being singled out following the tragedy.

Her comments come as the US State Department announced it had refused to grant her a visa.

The media has often suggested that Mr McKevitt, a former IRA quartermaster, leads the Real IRA, which admitted responsibility for the bomb.

[ image: Bernadette Sands-McKevitt:
Bernadette Sands-McKevitt: "Broke down and cried"
Ms Sands-McKevitt's remarks follow strong denials by her partner of any involvement in the blast or the dissident group.

The couple have fled their family home in the Irish borderside town of Dundalk, Co Louth, because of fears for their safety.

Speaking on Liveline, a phone-in on the Irish broadcasting service RTE, Ms Sands-McKevitt said she was sure the people behind the bombing would be brought to justice.

'I don't agree with this violence'

Ms Sands-McKevitt is vice-chairperson of the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, which the RUC has said is the political wing of the Real IRA.

She said: "I don't agree with violence such as we have witnessed. I would prefer we see this done by peaceful means, because that is the only way forward.

"As a committee, that is what we are trying to do. What I am saying is that there are always people who have been engaged in violence.

Ms Sands-McKevitt welcomes "ceasefire"
''If we don't address the problem [of Northern Ireland] how are we going to solve it. The [Good Friday] Agreement fell short of addressing the problem."

She said she would ask people who had violence in their minds "to support us on this peaceful route".

Ms Sands-McKevitt added: "I welcome the [Real IRA's suspension of violence] and all of our committee would welcome it, too - as we welcomed the Provisional IRA ceasefire."

'Worried sick' about children

The radio interview followed Mr McKevitt's claims to a Co Louth Roman Catholic priest that he had "no hand, act or part" in the Omagh bombing.

Ms Sands-McKevitt told the same priest, Father Desmond Campbell, she was "worried sick" about their three children's safety.

She told him in tears: "I am frightened out of my life that they [people angry at the Omagh bombing] will do something to my three children."

Father Campbell, of Blackrock, Co Louth, said the pair called him after he said in his sermon that the prime suspect in the bombing lived in his parish.

There had been reports that angry Dundalk residents were planning a protest march on the McKevitt house.

'I heard about the bomb on the news'

Mr McKevitt told Father Campbell: "The first I knew about it [the bomb] was when I was listening to the news on Saturday evening, and it came on.

"That was the first I knew about this bomb that went off in Omagh, and I had nothing whatsoever to do with it."

Father Campbell said that while he found it hard to disbelieve Mr McKevitt he would not say he believed him either.

Dundalk residents plan a rally on Saturday to disassociate themselves from sectarian violence.

"We will not have it that people will portray the image of Dundalk as a politically violent town - the El Paso image," said a local solicitor.

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