Wednesday 22 November 2017

Garda op in which Real IRA member shot dead 'may have been called after Van Morrison'

Ronan Mac Lochlainn
Ronan Mac Lochlainn

Clodagh Sheehy

A GARDA surveillance operation which ended in a Real IRA man being shot dead may have been called after singer Van Morrison, it has emerged.

“Operation Morrison” involved surveillance on a six man gang in the weeks leading up to a botched armed robbery near Ashford, Co Wicklow in which one of the gang was shot dead by gardai.

A detective giving evidence to the MacLochlainn Inquiry, has revealed that the name of the garda operation may have been chosen at the time from the name of the singer.

The Inquiry is investigating the death of Real IRA member Ronan McLochlainn (28) from Ballymun during the robbery on May 1st 1998.

The detective garda identified as DG45 he had heard the operation name “might have been because of Van Morrison.”

He also explained that people under surveillance would be given code names but he did not have any role in the choice of these names.

The detective  had been working with the Garda National Surveillance Unit at the time and he described surveillance on a van parked at Heuston Station in Dublin a week before the Ashford attempted robbery.

He told the Inquiry he watched a man, who he later found out to be Ronan MacLochlainn, wearing gloves and taking a sports bag from a van at the station on April 24th 1998.

The fact that he was wearing gloves, said DG45, “clearly would have shown a forensic awareness”.

The van was one of two vans subsequently used in the botched robbery the following week.

The Inquiry heard that the 11 year old van had been bought by the gang for £450 and had been sprayed twice, first from blue to white and then back to blue in the weeks before the robbery attempt.

The second van had been stolen from a confectionery company weeks before the incident.

DG45 said he had watched the man, who he later found out was Ronan MacLochlainn, with two other men in the station carpark on April 24th.

Mr MacLochlainn had worn gloves while taking the sports bag out of the van.  He secured the van, took off the gloves and the three men left in a Toyota Carina.

The detective said he had been parked in the carpark several cars away and had a good view of the scene.

He had followed the Carina when it left the carpark across Sherwin Bridge but lost sight of the car on Wolfe Tone Quay.

Earlier another detective member of the Surveillance Unit - DS04 - told the Inquiry if he had his time over he would have intervened earlier in the situation which evolved in Ashford that day.

He believed there had been an opportunity to arrest people before the robbery developed.

The detective had spoken to his colleague DS06 just minutes before that colleague fired the fatal shot killing Mr MacLochlainn.

DS04 told the Inquiry, however, he did not find out the identity of the person who fired the shot until three years later when DS06 himself was fatally shot in another armed raid.

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