The fatal shooting of an armed raider may have been prevented if gardaí had had prior knowledge of the gang’s plan, a former senior officer has said.
Speaking at the Commission of Investigation into the shooting of Ronan MacLochlainn by gardaí in 1998, former assistant garda commissioner Dermot Jennings said the garda surveillance unit observing the gang would have “prevented it getting that far” if they had known of the raiders’ plan.
He was giving evidence at the opening day of public hearings by the MacLochlainn Commission in Dublin yesterday.
It is investigating the fatal shooting of the 28-year-old Dubliner by gardaí during a botched Real IRA armed robbery in Co Wicklow.
MacLochlainn was part of a six-man gang that tried to rob a Securicor van in Ashford on May 1, the day of the ‘blue flu’, when many gardaí rang in sick as part of a dispute over pay.
The hearing was told that MacLochlainn was travelling in a convoy of two vans and a car which were under garda surveillance.
A van and the car attempted to block the Securicor vehicle but when gardaí intervened, MacLochlainn ran and hijacked an elderly couple’s car at gunpoint. The three gardaí who launched a pursuit have previously said that MacLochlainn pointed his gun at them.
The hearing was told the gardaí fired their weapons and two missed. A third shot hit the wing mirror and ricocheted towards MacLochlainn, entering him in the chin. He died at the scene.
Mr Jennings said while he was aware of MacLochlainn through intelligence, gardaí were not following him that day and were instead following
Paschal Burke, a convicted member of the Provisional IRA.
He said the “aerials would go up” where Burke was spotted, as it had become clear to them that he had defected to the Real IRA.
Gardaí were monitoring the gang that day because of a van linked to Burke. But Mr Jennings insisted that the force had no specific information on any crimes being planned.
“We would have prevented it if we knew what they were going to do,” he said of the botched raid. “We might not be in the situation we are in today and Mr MacLochlainn would not have lost his life.”
Hugh Hartnett, counsel for the deceased’s partner, Gráinne Nic Gibb, told the commission they were concerned about the prior knowledge of gardaí, among other things.