The men who killed Det Garda Jerry McCabe under the so called veil of republicanism were criticised for thinking they were heroes at a memorial service to mark the 20th anniversary of his death.
A wreath laying ceremony took place in Adare in Co Limerick yesterday to mark the exact time the botched post office robberytook place in the village in 1996.
Willie Jackson (67), who was driving an An Post van at the scene on the morning Det Garda McCabe was killed and his colleague Ben O’Sullivan was seriously injured, said the killers “think they are republican heroes”.
“I think the heroes are the people who get up in the morning who go to work, to provide money, taxes and the services of the State and that’s what Jerry McCabe and Ben O’Sullivan were doing that morning,” he said. “I can’t see how these people could take the monopoly of republicanism.”
Mr Jackson said that, during the incident, he was pushed up against a wall by a gunman who he said “seemed to panic when things didn’t go according to plan”.
He said he was unloading cash from the truck when it was struck by a 4x4 which skidded into the back of the Garda patrol car.
“They started shooting immediately...I think they were trying to just make sure they were dead,” he said.
Fifteen shots were fired during the incident; three of which struck Det Garda McCabe and 11 of which hit Det Garda O’Sullivan, who survived the attack.
“I just tried to keep Ben calm and tried to stop the blood coming out of his shoulder; the blood was coming down his sleeve,” he said.
Pearse McCauley, Michael O'Neill, Jeremiah Sheehy and Kevin Walsh, were initially charged with the murder of Det Garda McCabe but the charge was dropped after key witnesses refused to co-operate after IRA intimidation.
The four were subsequently convicted of manslaughter while a fifth man, John Quinn, was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery.
The men were accepted as IRA prisoners and Sinn Féin fought a lengthy campaign for their early release as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
More than 200 people gathered from 6am for the wreath laying ceremony outside Adare Garda station, which is directly across the road from the Post Office where Det Garda McCabe was murdered.
The Garda Band opened the ceremony with the the hymn Nearer my God to thee at 6.55am, the exact time Det Garda McCabe was shot dead.
Det Garda O’Sullivan stood with Anne McCabe, Det Sgt McCabe’s widow; their daughter Stacey McCabe; son Garda John McCabe and grandson Jerry McCabe.
Speaking afterwards, Det Garda O’Sullivan said there was “scarcely a day we were separated because we were a team, but regrettably today you see me without Jerry”.
He said his memory of the incident is “crystal clear in my head but you are never expected to forget something like that, you are supposed to take up the gauntlet and accept that it happened; you cannot turn the clock backwards”.
Garda John McCabe, who was working as a Garda in Co Monaghan at the time of his father’s death, said he heard the news of a member of the force being killed on the radio.
“I was actually on duty on the same shift stationed in Monaghan town at the time,” he said. “I tried a couple of Garda stations in Limerick and I couldn’t get through I eventually got through to Roxboro and the Garda on duty told me the news that dad had been involved, and that was the first I heard of it and it was a fair shock obviously.”
Garda McCabe said he will never forget the four hour journey home to Limerick: “One of my colleagues drove me down, it took nearly four and a half hours because the country was full of check points.”
John McCabe continues to serve as a member of An Garda Síochána and is currently based in Shannon, Co Clare. "There's photographs of dad in nearly every station in the country and other members of course that have been killed since. Unfortunately the number is mounting too fast,' he added.
Stacey McCabe said her father was “kind and loving” and “every day it breaks our heart that he’s not here”.