Friday 27 April 2018

Gardai believed IRA gang planning bomb attack on day Ronan MacLochlainn shot dead

The scene of the 1998 security van raid in Co Wicklow
The scene of the 1998 security van raid in Co Wicklow
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

Gardai believed an IRA gang may have been planning a bomb attack aimed at derailing the Peace Process on the day Ronan MacLochlainn was shot dead.

The Real IRA activist, from Dublin, was fatally killed by members of the Garda’s Emergency Response Unit, during a botched attempt by a six-man gang to hold up a Securicor van, near Ashford in Co Wicklow on May 1, 1998.

The van was transporting around IR£300,000 in cash from Wicklow to Dublin.

MacLochlainn was part of a Real IRA gang which had been under watch by members of the garda national surveillance unit.

This culminated in an operation - code named 'Morrsion' - which involved members of the Emergency Response Unit and the Special Branch.

On the second day of public hearings by the MacLochlainn Inquiry in Dublin this morning, former Assistant Commissioner, Dermot 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 it had become clear to them that Burke had defected to the Real IRA.

Gardaí were monitoring the gang on the day in question because of a van linked to Burke.

"Once Paschal Burke was on the move, the aerials went up. He was an important guy," he said.

"It was at a time when we had real concerns that people from the Provisional IRA were moving into this new organisation known as the Real IRA.

"With his convictions for terrorist activity in the late 80s, he was naturally a very important target for us.

"He defected to the Real IRA. The aim of this new organisation was to wreck the Peace Process.

"That was clear in some of their many attempted, and some successful, bombings that they carried out.

"In the mind of this group, McGuinness and Adams were traitors to what they called 'the cause'."

He told the Inquiry the "main thrust" of their activities were bombs, adding that these bombs were "made for one reason; that's to kill and murder."

He said the force had no specific information on any crimes being planned, and "didn't know what was going to happen" on the day in question, so they had to "build the pieces through association."

"We didn't have any intelligence as to the group's intentions," he added.

"You must let the situation evolve to see what it going to happen.

"It was like putting the jigsaw together to try and paint a picture. Particularly with the lack of other intelligence pointing as to what they were going to do.

"Sadly, had we got the intelligence, it may never have got to as far as it did."

Mr Jennings, who retired from the force four years ago, told the Inquiry that given Burke's criminal background, he thought the gang's activities most likely involved explosives.

"If I was asked I would have assumed this operation - which started off in Heuston - was going to be either a bomb attack, or a training session.

"The possibility of a training camp was very much in our mind.

"There was nothing whatsoever to indicate to us that it was going to be an attempted robbery."

On the day, the gang was armed with an assault rifle, a pump action shotgun, a revolver, an imitation rocket launcher and an angle grinder.

The fatal shot was fired from a Smith and Wesson special six-shot revolver.

The hearing continues.

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