A GARDA shot dead during a robbery was dedicated, diligent and hugely popular, senior officers said today.
Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, a father of two aged in his 40s, was gunned down just half a mile from home as he tried to stop raiders escaping with cash from a Credit Union in Co Louth.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he had been deeply saddened to hear of his colleague's death.
"He was a very popular member of An Garda Siochana, a very efficient member, someone who was revered both by his peers and members of the community where he served," he said
Det Garda Donohoe's widow Caroline, two brothers and members of his extended family are also members of the Gardai.
Detectives are still investigating whether subversive elements such as dissident republicans were involved in the murder or whether a criminal gang was responsible.
Commissioner Callinan said: "There were up to four people involved in the actual raid. How many were involved beyond that will remain to be seen. We will put all our energy towards finding out precisely who was behind this robbery. It is too early to speculate whether there was a subversive element to this or whether they are ordinary criminals."
A book of condolence has been opened at Dundalk garda station where the murdered officer was based. Former colleagues and members of the public have been attending the station with floral tributes and leaving messages of support for the Donohoe family.
President Michael D Higgins has said he was shocked to learn of the killing of Detective Garda Donohoe.
Mr Higgins described the killing as "a dreadful crime" and said all Irish people "will be truly appalled by it".
The Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said no effort will be spared in bringing those responsible for the murder - who are still at large - to justice.
TD Alan Shatter said: "I have been informed by the Garda Commissioner of the dreadful news of the brutal murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohue who was on duty in County Louth last night.
"The Irish people rightly have great respect and admiration for members of An Garda Siochana and the work they do in protecting the community.
"They will share my revulsion and horror that a Garda has so tragically lost his life in the course of his duties.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and colleagues of Adrian, who lost his life in carrying out his duty in the best traditions of the brave men and women of An Garda Siochana.
"I know that An Garda Siochana will spare no effort in ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice.
"In doing so, they have the unswerving support of the Government and Irish people at this very difficult time."
Detective Garda Donohoe, attached to the Detective Unit in Dundalk, is believed to have lived in the rural Lordship area, on the Cooley Peninsula, around half a mile from the murder scene.
Local councillor Jim Loughran condemned those responsible for the shooting, saying they had devastated a small tight-knit community.
He described him as "a quiet, decent family man".
Mr Loughran said: "I just spoke to him last week on the street in town. I can't believe this has happened.
"This was not just an attack on a Garda detective, it was an attack on the whole community," he said.
Sinn Fein president and Co Louth TD Gerry Adams said he was deeply shocked by the detective's murder.
"I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and colleagues, and appeal to those with information about this crime to co-operate with the Gardai," he said.
The Lordship Credit Union, where the killing took place, was described as a hub of the small community.
It is believed staff were locking up when the incident occurred last night.
Councillor Declan Breathnach said it was not unusual for it to remain open late into the evening.
"It would be fairly busy on a Friday evening, with some people just getting their week's pay or wanting to sort out money for the weekend," Mr Breathnach said.
"This was just such a despicable, heinous act. I still can't believe it but I utterly condemn it."
John Parker, president of the Garda Representative Association, the professional body for officers, said the death highlights the dangers that Gardai face on duty.
Mr Parker said: "This dreadful news is what every police family fears.
"At this time the wider Garda family will be doing everything possible to support the late Garda's relatives and loved ones, friends and colleagues. There is a deep shock across An Garda Siochana - and Irish society.
"This heinous crime highlights the dangers Gardai face in the course of their duties and must be rightly condemned."
Gardai have appealed for witnesses to contact them at Dundalk Garda Station.