Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has declined to apologize to relatives of the Omagh bombing victims and has defended an intervention with former Justice Minister Michael McDowell on behalf of the family of jailed Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt. Ahern spoke out this week as Omagh relatives expressed fury when it was revealed he intervened at the instigation of McKevitt's partner, Bernadette Sands McKevitt, when she complained about her husband's loss of privileges in Portlaoise Prison. At the time Ahern was communications minister. He forwarded Sands McKevitt's email to McDowell. Michael Gallagher, whose 21-year-old son Aidan died in the bombing, and who is a spokesman for the victims' families, described the minister's intervention as inappropriate and called on Ahern to resign. Members of the Real IRA are believed to have carried out the bombing in which 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed in August, 1998. Although McKevitt was jailed for 20 years for Real IRA activities he was not accused of being directly linked to the bombing. But he is one of a number of men facing a civil action from the families of those killed in the bombing. Both Ahern and the McKevitt families live near each other in Dundalk, Co. Louth. Ahern said he "regretted" if his intervention upset families torn apart by Real IRA violence, but he didn't apologize. He said he was satisfied he had made the right judgment as he believed in having compassion for families. He added that anybody who knew him in public life knew there was virtually nobody who opposed paramilitary violence more than he had. But he said he also had a duty to respond with compassion to any family who approached him, and he had always done that in a fashion which did not in any way compromise his position. "It would be a dereliction of duty if I was to ignore families when they come to me indicating that, perhaps, there is in some way an infringement of someone's human rights," Ahern said. The representation was made in June, 2004, and the following month McDowell responded that McKevitt had taken part in a jail protest with other dissident prisoners and was subjected to disciplinary measures. Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said Ahern's actions were "ill-judged" as a cabinet minister.
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