Friday 23 August 2019

MacLochlain inquiry: Lawyers to seek High Court order compelling former armed raider to give evidence

Ronan MacLochlainn
Ronan MacLochlainn

Clodagh Sheehy

Lawyers for the MacLochlainn Inquiry are to seek a High Court order compelling a former armed raider to give evidence.

Pascal Burke, a member of the Real IRA, failed to turn up at the Inquiry today to answer questions about the botched armed robbery in which gang member Ronan MacLochlainn was shot dead.

Mr Burke was to be the first of the five remaining member of the gang to come before the Inquiry in relation to the events of May 1st 1998 near Ashford Co Wicklow.

When he failed to show it is understood Commissioner Mary Rose Gearty SC decided to apply to the High Court for the order.

The leader of the armed gang whose member Ronan MacLochlainn was shot dead during a raid, failed to turn up to give evidence to the MacLochlainn Tribunal.

Pascal Burke was due to give evidence to the hearing today but did not turn up.

Commissioner Mary Rose Gearty SC is now considering legal options which could include  High Court action to force Mr Burke to appear before the Tribunal.

Mr Burke was given an eight year jail sentence for his part in the botched robbery near Ashford, Co Wicklow on May 1st 1998.

Real IRA member Ronan MacLochlainn, who was part of the armed gang, was shot dead by an undercover detective at the scene.

Mr Burke was due to be the first of the remaining five members of the gang to be questioned  at the Tribunal which is examining the circumstances surrounding Mr MacLochlainn’s death.

The Real IRA member had been sentenced in December 1998 for his part in the robbery along with Saoirse Breathnach, Stephen Carney, Philip Forsythe and Danny McAllister.

All five pleaded guilty to having an AKM Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Mossberg 12-gauge pump action shotgun and a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver with intent to commit a robbery.

Burke, Carney and McAllister were given eight year sentences while Breathnach and Forsythe were given seven years, taking into account that they had no previous convictions.

Mr Justice Morris in sentencing the men said the court had no doubt that this was " a highly organised and premeditated crime and bore all the hallmarks of a paramilitary undertaking."

He said that the five men had attempted to rob money from the Securicor van after blocking the road and posing as workmen. All had resisted arrest "in varying degrees".

The Tribunal has already heard evidence from garda members of the National Surveillance Unit and Emergency Response Unit and some civilians.

It is due to hear evidence from the raiders, other civilians and expert witnesses before the final report is compiled.

Breifne Earley who was driving directly behind the Securicor Van when it was ambushed told the Tribunal how one masked raider with a rifle told him to “get into the fucking ditch or I’ll blow your head off”.

Mr Earley described how the Securicor Van was forced to stop by a van parked across the road.

“I saw a gentleman with a rifle banging on the window of the Securicor Van saying “open the door, open the door.

“There were two men on the other side. One of them looked to have something like a rocket launcher and there was an angle grinder on the ground and cans of petrol as well.”

Mr Earley said the man with the rifle told the two Securicor staff he would blow their van over the far side of the road and into the ditch if they did not comply.

“It was not quite as polite as that.  There were a few other words as well”, he told the Tribunal.

Mr Earley stressed that his own car was stopped 12 inches from the Securicor van.

“I thought I’m going to get it if I stay here so I switched off the engine and put the keys in my pocket.”

He got out of the driver’s side of the car and crouched low moving back along the now parked line of cars.

 As he came to a van, parked at a slight angle to the road “someone jumped out with a rifle and told me to get into the ditch.  I certainly did that and said ‘I’m going, I’m going”.

At the same time, Mr Earley said he saw four people running up the road in a line pointing their guns and shouting ‘drop your weapons, gardai’.

“There were two girls and two fellows. They didn’t have tabbards. They looked like thy were going to a party but I kind of guessed that they might be gardai”.

Mr Earley told how he crouched in the ditch and heard engines revving, the sound of car wheels spinning and then an impact. He also heard several gunshots fired but he could not see what was happenening.

Later he saw two of the raiders in the back of a garda car with their balaclavas still on about to be driven away and he noticed the four plain clothes gardai he had seen earlier leaving the scene.

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