Thursday 22 August 2019

Real IRA armed raid was hoped to be 'a good publicity stunt' - MacLochlainn Inquiry

Ronan Mac Lochlainn
Ronan Mac Lochlainn

Clodagh Sheehy

The Real IRA man who planned an armed raid in which a gang member was shot dead, said they had hoped it would be “a good publicity stunt” and indirectly affect the Good Friday Agreement.

Danny McAllister said while he knew the robbery might not impact the Agreement directly  it would have “given a lot of credence” to the the Real IRA.

Mr McAllister served a jail sentence for his part in the botched raid in which gang member Ronan MacLochlainn was shot dead by gardai just north of Ashford, Co Wicklow, on May 1st 1998.

In evidence to the MacLochlainn Inquiry Mr McAllister said the Real IRA at the time “needed money and we needed it quick” but the raid  would also have been “a very good publicity stunt for us”.

He explained: “A lot of people were sitting on the fence. If we were successful we would have brought people with us”.

He said the Real IRA, which had broken away from the Provisional IRA was “running on petrol fumes.  We needed and injection of cash”.

He described how the robbery had been planned for the previous Friday but aborted when the Securicor Van came through ahead of time.

He also told how he had stolen traffic cones from the grounds of RTE to use in the raid. how the raid itself cost about €10,000 to organise and how it had been in the planning for two years.

Mr McAllister said he had been watching the Securicor Van on and off for the previous two years and picked the point for the robbery at the Cullenmore bends because it was a  black spot for mobile phone and radio communications.

The operation took at least three months to plan in detail.  “You have to get finance and transport. You need maybe €10,000. You have to have escape money, new clothes, petrol, drivers’ money. Its all money.”

They initially went to Ashford on April 24th but had to abort the operation when the security van came through the area ahead of schedule.

On May 1st the van driven by Ronan MacLochlainn picked up Saoirse  Breathnach and Philip Forsythe at a bus stop near Donnybrook Church.

Mr McAllister said he was picked up from outside RTE where he had spotted traffic cones behind a wall which he took with him for the planned raid.

They headed for Ashford and waited up in a creamery until they got a sign from Stephen Carney that the Securicor Van was on its way.

They drove to the Cullenmore bends and pulled the van across the road as the Securicor Van came around one of the bends.

Mr McAllister said Saoirse had an AK47, Phil had a lump hammer and con saw and Ronan had a short revolver.

He had a dummy rocket launcher made from plastic.  Stephen Carney who was in a car at the scene had a pump action shotgun.

He insisted that the gang had no intention of firing at anyone, the most they intended was to fire over people’s heads if they needed time to get away.

“The last thing you need is someone to be shot, civilian or guard, it defeats the whole purpose. Even for Provos its a No No” he added.

The Inquiry, which is investigating the circumstances of Mr MacLochlainn’s death, has heard that none of the raiders fired shots.  One of the 12  shots fired by gardai killed Mr MacLochlainn.

Mr McAllister  told how they got one person out of the security van when someone shouted armed gardai.

“I pushed the security man on the ground.  The shooting started, you’re talking less than a minute”.

When they saw gardai surrounding Stephen Carney’s car they ran back towards their van “but Ronan wasn’t there” and none of the rest of them could drive.

Mr McAllister said he ran with the other two past the van and tried to hijack a car but it was only two doors so they left it and headed for the fields to the site of the road.

They were all arrested at the field.

Philip Forsythe, who also served a jail term for his part in the robbery, told how he had bought the balaclavas, boiler suits and gloves for the operation a few weeks before.

He had been armed with a lump hammer which he used to smash the window of the Securicor Van because he thought the second security man “was sort of stalling a bit” .

Earlier another witness told how a Garda fired three shots into a car which had been hijacked by Ronan MacLochlainn.

Tom Butler said the Garda was within two yards of the car when he fired the first shot which smashed a window and he moved closer to fire two more shots into the car driven by Ronan MacLochlainn.

Commissioner Mary Rose Gearty explained to Mr Butler that none of those three shots had killed Mr MacLochlainn.

According to ballistics evidence the fatal shot was fired from another garda gun at the scene.

Mr Butler told how he was on his way home from a charity golf game when his car was brought to a stop just outside Ashford.

Someone shouted ‘raid’ and he tried to do a u-turn but could not.

“Two fellas came racing down the road. One of them roared as he was running towards me ‘get out of the f——ng car.  They were wearing balaclavas and boiler suits.

“I thought it would be better to get out of the car. I jumped out of the car, shot onto the bank and behind a tree.

“Two raiders flew by me and whoever was following them roared at me to get on the ground and I did.”

He explained that the masked men were being pursued by at least two garda who went “flying by me into the field after them.

“There were plenty of shots going off” which, he said, sounded “like kids playing with cap guns”.

Mr Butler said when he heard a car revving loudly as he lay on the ground he thought “oh that’s my car gone” so he got up to look and “that’s when I seen more action down the road”.

He could see three armed gardai running up the road behind a car which stalled.

“The first police officer caught up with the car and that’s when the shots went off.”

Mr Butler recalled hearing one shot and exploding glass followed by another two shots.  He told the Inquiry that the garda fired the first shot from “one or two yards” from the car and then “took a step closer and fired two more shots and that was it”.

As the second of the three gardai arrived at the car he pulled someone out of the car. Mr Butler said there was no struggle “it seemed to be a body. It just landed on the road, to me there was no movement”.

Just as this happened a Garda closer to Mr Butler who now had a prisoner pinned on the ground beside Mr Butler’s car “told me to get back into my car so I didn’t get to see then what else happened.”

He said the Garda had the man spreadeagled on the road and pinned to the ground.  He could not remember if he was kneeling on him or how he had him pinned.

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