GAA members in south Armagh are among those gardai believe are protecting the killers of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
The belief is a source of bitterness among colleagues of the murdered detective, given that he was a life-long Gaelic sports enthusiast and devoted much of his spare time to training junior players in his local club, St Patrick's in Dundalk.
Garda sources this weekend said they were now confident that charges would be brought in relation to the murder last January, despite the fact that family members and friends of the gang have been engaged in protecting the killers and intimidating potential witnesses from the south Armagh area.
Gardai have amassed a considerable amount of circumstantial mobile phone traffic, CCTV and DNA evidence that they are confident can place the killers at the scene. DNA has been taken from a hammer used to break a window in the garda car and that of a credit union employee at the scene and, it is understood, has been taken from another item at the scene.
Two brothers, originally from the Cooley Peninsula area but who have been living in south Armagh in recent years, travelled to New York last October and are believed to have moved from there to Boston before Christmas.
Garda travelled to the United States to interview them but they declined to attend the meeting. Gardai are in contact with US police about their movements.
Sources said there is no intention to extradite the two though the Republic has extradition arrangements with the United States and gardai are content to see them return from the respective countries.
Two other members of the gang have remained living in the south Armagh area, one in Crossmaglen and the other – the man suspected of firing the fatal shot – in the Ravensdale area.
The Ravensdale man has family in the US and stayed with them for nearly three months last year before returning home.
All five have given statements to the PSNI, via their solicitors, stating they are aware they are suspects in the murder and robbery but denying any involvement.
This is standard practice in Northern Ireland in criminal cases as a legal circumvention of the "inference" law where a refusal to answer questions can be taken as an indication of guilt.
Garda sources last night said the case had been painstaking and long, given the lack of public support from associates and families in south Armagh. One of the suspects is well-known in GAA circles and deep divisions have occurred over his alleged involvement in the murder of such a highly respected fellow member of the GAA as Det Gda Donohoe.
A local source described the split in the GAA in the border area as "very bitter".
Gardai have imposed strict silence on the progress of the investigation but it is understood the book of evidence was, more or less, completed in December.
Gardai from all round the country attended the packed mass at St Joseph's Redemptorist Church in Dundalk on Friday evening, attended by Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter and the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan. Many members of the GAA community in the border area were also present.
And colleagues recalled after Friday night's memorial Mass that Det Gda Donohoe was one of three members of his class of 100 students in Templemore Garda College in 1994-1995 who have died on duty.