Gardaí exonerated over shooting dead of Real IRA raider MacLochlainn

Garda’s inquiry into shooting heavily criticised by MacLochlainn Commission

The shooting dead of Real IRA member Ronan MacLochlainn during an armed robbery 20 years ago was “necessary and reasonable”, a commission established to investigate the fatality has concluded.

However, the Garda’s subsequent inquiry into the shooting was “minimal and substandard”.

The commission's sole member, Mary Rose Gearty SC, pointed to the highly professional investigation carried out by gardaí into the other armed raiders MacLochlainn was with on the day, which resulted in their jailing.

But the Garda did not take the same professional approach when investigating the circumstances of MacLochlainn’s shooting dead by one of the armed gardaí on the scene.

Ms Gearty said gardaí investigated the attempted armed robbery by the Real IRA on a Securicor van in Ashford, Co Wicklow, just over 20 years ago alongside the death of MacLochlainn during the same robbery. This was unsatisfactory and resulted in a very poor outcome.

“From scene preservation, to witness statements, to final report, there was an unthinkable emphasis on the robbery to the almost exclusion of the shooting,” she said of the Garda inquiry.

Despite the fact Garda witnesses said MacLochlainn pointed a gun at them and was shot as a result, basic questions such as what hand the gun was in were never asked of any witness.

“The shooting is mentioned in a small number of statements that were taken in 1998,” Ms Gearty concludes. “It formed a few paragraphs in a report of over 100 pages that was sent to the DPP.”

The botched robbery occurred on May 1st, 1998, when most Garda members were involved in the so-called ‘Blue flu’. They called in sick in a protest at rates of Garda pay at the time.

Information withheld

The commission also found gardaí from the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) who were present on the day were never identified and interviewed. And gardaí also withheld information from the dead man’s partner Gráinne Nic Gibb for well over a decade.

Ms Nic Gibb, has long maintained gardaí could have stopped the robbery before it started, meaning they would not have had to shoot him.

But Ms Gearty did not agree, stating he had several opportunities to surrender to gardaí but opted to try to hijack a passing car and pointed his gun at the gardaí.

On the day, NSU detectives were surveilling a van containing Real IRA members when it stopped in front of a Securicor van at Cullenmore bend in Ashford, and blocked it.

However the raiders, including MacLochlainn, fled when they saw the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) move in on them. MacLochlainn pointed a handgun at gardaí, causing one to open fire.

He ran to a car and ordered the two elderly occupants to get out. While in the car, he pointed the gun at another garda who responded by firing twice.

A third garda, who was in an NSU car, then fired at MacLochlainn. MacLochlainn was hit in the chest and later died at the scene.

Accidental death

The NSU detective sergeant, who was identified in the report as DS-06, was himself killed three years later after being accidently hit by a garda bullet during an incident.

The commission also rejected Ms Nic Gibb’s submission that DS-06 only opened fire because he had previously been in the ERU. Ms Gearty ruled he opened fire because MacLochlainn aimed a gun at him.

Although she cleared the garda who pulled the trigger, Ms Gearty severely criticised the fact that gardaí moved their cars from the area straight after the shooting.

She found this was a breach of Garda rules and “basic scene preservation” which had a “toxic result”.

After MacLochlainn’s inquest, his partner went to the European Court of Human Rights alleging the State had failed to properly investigate his death. This prompted the government to establish the commission of investigation in 2014.

Last year, after the commission made its draft ruling, Ms Nic Gibb failed to have the High Court overturn its finding that the shooting was justified.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times