Real IRA raider shot dead during a botched robbery of a security van 'died doing his duty in war'
A member of the Real IRA, shot dead during a botched robbery of a security van, "did his duty" and "died as a free man", a fellow raider has claimed.
Pascal Burke, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the raid, said dead gang member Ronan MacLochlainn (28) took part in the attempted robbery "for what he believed in".
Burke was giving evidence to the MacLochlainn Commission of Inquiry yesterday, which is investigating the shooting dead of MacLochainn by gardaí at the scene of the robbery, north of Ashford, Co Wicklow, on May 1, 1998 - the day of the garda 'blue flu'.
Giving evidence to Commissioner Mary Rose Gearty SC, Mr Burke said the purpose of the operation was to get funds "to buy arms to continue to prosecute the war".
"We were under pressure for money," he said. "I felt this was a feasible operation."
Burke, who was 34 at the time of the robbery, acted as a driver.
He parked some distance down the road from where the heist was due to take place. However, he abandoned his vehicle and tried to escape across a field as he realised it had been foiled.
He claimed the pursuing gardaí fired shots when he had his back to them, and said he couldn't recall if they alerted him they were armed, as they claimed. "I put up my hands. You get beaten, I was put down. I was undressed basically. I was in that position for five or 10 minutes. One garda came over and mentioned me by first name ... then he fixed me (put his clothes back in place)," he told Ms Gearty.
He said it was only when he was brought before the Special Criminal Court days later that he realised MacLochlainn had been killed.
He also said it was IRA policy at that time that their members would "not engage in gun battle with gardaí or members of the State" and could only do so to "defend" their lives.
"They were given instructions from me for that. That policy is still there," he added.
"If I thought we were being watched, I would have called the operation off."
Referring to his appearance before the commission, Burke said: "I am here as a private individual for Ronan and his family.
"Ronan went out to do what he done for what he believed in ... He did his duty. He is a family man, he died as a free man and he paid for that."
Retired Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan also gave evidence about his involvement in the subsequent investigation. He said "no member of the Gardai Síochána sets out to shoot anybody".
The Commission is investigating whether the gardaí's use of force that day in 1998 was justified.