A CLOSE associate of murdered Real IRA faction boss Alan Ryan was in garda custody last night after a handgun was found in his car.
Heavily armed detectives from the Garda's Emergency Response Unit seized the weapon after stopping the vehicle in Dublin city.
The detectives were on patrol when they spotted the 21-year-old suspect shortly before 11am yesterday. They stopped the car at Temple Street and found an unloaded 9mm Beretta pistol.
Gardai suspect that the man was ferrying the weapon from one hiding place to another and was not about to take part in a shooting.
They said the stop-and-search operation was part of anti-terrorist activities and not based on specific intelligence.
The suspect, who is from a flats complex in Dublin's north inner city, had been a leading ally of Ryan in the months prior to his murder in Clongriffin in September.
He is also a close friend of Nathan Kinsella, who was shot in the knee and dumped in Ballyfermot last month.
Gardai believe that Kinsella was singled out by his attackers because of his friendship with Ryan.
The kneecapping of Kinsella is thought to have been carried out by Real IRA activists, close to the leadership of the new terrorist alliance, in which the faction is a member.
Since the murder of Ryan and the paramilitary display at his funeral, gardai have been involved in a big crackdown on the dissident group and have made a large number of arrests and searches. But yesterday's find is seen as a significant breakthrough in their inquiries.
Over the past year the Real IRA in Dublin has splintered into a number of factions because of internal rows involving Ryan, who clashed with several other leading members of the group.
Forensic tests are being carried out by the garda technical bureau on the seized weapon to determine if it could be linked to any shootings.
The suspect is known to the gardai as an associate of Ryan but has not been arrested by gardai for questioning in the past.