Gardaí were not interviewed on Real IRA man’s death

Over 20 officers present at fatal shooting of Rónán Mac Lochlainn were never questioned

Gráinne Nic Gib  and Gráinne Nic Lochlainn arriving for the commission of investigation into the fatal shooting  of Rónán Mac Lochlainn by an armed detective in 1998. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Gráinne Nic Gib and Gráinne Nic Lochlainn arriving for the commission of investigation into the fatal shooting of Rónán Mac Lochlainn by an armed detective in 1998. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

More than 20 gardaí who were present in Co Wicklow when a Real IRA man was shot dead by an armed detective in 1998 were never interviewed about the incident, it has emerged.

Head of the commission of investigation into the fatal shooting of Rónán Mac Lochlainn, senior counsel Mary Rose Gearty, told a Garda witness during public hearings that none of the 21 members of the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) present on the day were interviewed until her staff contacted them in recent months, some 17-years later.

Ms Gearty is investigating the shooting of Mac Lochlainn (28), from Ballymun, north Dublin, during a botched armed robbery on a Securicor van at Cullenmore Bends near Ashford, Co Wicklow, on May 1st, 1998.

The dead man and other members of the gang were followed from Dublin to Wicklow by the NSU.

When the gang attempted to rob the van on the main Dublin to Wexford road, armed gardaí moved in to arrest them.

Mac Lochlainn died of a single bullet wound to the chest. He was armed at the time and was trying to hijack a car driven by an elderly couple.

His inquest has already been told that 12 shots were fired by gardaí.

The gang members were armed but did not discharge any shots.

Foiled operations

Dermot Jennings

These included intercepting bombs being taken over the border into the North and an attempt to bring a bomb on board a car ferry to England from Dún Laoghaire

He said if the force had any information Mac Lochlainn and the other gang members were about to carry out an armed robbery, they would have stepped in and prevented the crime.

“He should not have died,” Mr Jennings told senior counsel Hugh Hartnett, acting for the Mac Lochlainn’s partner Gráinne Nic Gib.

“But you have to remember he was on an active service unit of the Real IRA. The gardaí didn’t want to be in Ashford that day.”

During a robust exchange, Mr Hartnett accused Mr Jennings of making speeches, which he denied.

Ms Nic Gib is seeking to establish how the Garda operation was planned on the day and why gardaí did not intervene until the robbery was underway.

The commission heard the 21 members of the NSU were supported by 16 members of the Emergency Response Unit and the Garda fixed-wing aircraft.

However, Mr Jennings insisted the operation targeting the gang was for surveillance purposes only.

He said that the Real IRA had splintered from the Provisional IRA the previous year and An Garda Síochána was quickly trying to establish who was defecting to the dissident group.

Splinter group

With little or no information coming from technological or human sources, the NSU placed persons of interest under physical surveillance.

By tracking one such man - convicted Provisional IRA member Paschal Burke, who defected to the Real IRA - gardaí gleaned a lot of information about the new organisation.

He said Mac Lochlainn was spotted with Burke using a van at a car park beside Heuston train station in Dublin on April 24th, 1998, one week before he was shot dead.

Mac Lochlainn was seen transferring a sports bag from a van to a car after putting gloves on.

Senior counsel Michael Durack, for current and past members of An Garda Síochána, said the Real IRA gang was armed with a pump-action shotgun that had 18 cartridges, a Smith and Wesson revolver with six live rounds, an AK assault rifle with 28 live rounds and a replica rocket launcher.

The gang members also had a metal bar, lump hammer, concrete saw, chisel, a quantity of petrol and a modified fire extinguisher capable of throwing petrol about 20 feet.

He said that the main road to Wexford where gardaí moved in on the attempted robbery would have been very busy with bank holiday commuters at the time.

He said that, against that backdrop, with so many people in the area and so many weapons produced, gardaí had no option but to intervene “and try to be as careful as possible”.

The public hearings, which started on Tuesday, resume tomorrow.