SF/IRA had hired slain Lusk gunman
JODY CORCORAN and MAEVE SHEEHAN THE ruthless gang leader shot dead by undercover gardai at Lusk post office had "robbed to order" for the Provisional IRA, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Colm Griffin had worked for the terrorist organisation in the recent past, although security sources say they have no reason to believe that the attempted post office robbery last week was ordered by the IRA.
Last year Griffin had been effectively subcontracted by the IRA's so-called 'adjutant' in Belfast to rob consignments of high-value goods, mainly from Dublin Port, in an attempt to distance the IRA from direct involvement in criminality.
These robberies were a significant part of the reason why the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, publicly went on the offensive against Sinn Fein/IRA, culminating in his identifying Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris as members of the IRA's so-called Army Council.
Mr McDowell, who is on a fact-finding mission in the US, has received regular updated briefings from the Garda authorities on the dramatic events at Lusk.
Speaking from New York last night, he refused to be drawn pending the outcome of official inquiries into the shootings, other than to repeat his statement that the Gardai had his full support.
Mr McDowell told the Sunday Independent, however, that in his talks last week with prominent and influential Irish-Americans, he had been continually asked to "keep up the pressure" on the Provisional movement for the IRA to "go out of business".
The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, has said he had "every confidence" the Garda had acted appropriately in Lusk, a village in north Dublin.
Its elite Emergency Response Unit (ERU), which specialises in firearms use, and other armed detectives
were lying in wait both inside and outside the post office in Lusk when they confronted the gang.
Gardai officially described what happened next as a series of shots that ended with two robbers dead and three others in custody. No gardai were injured.
The Sunday Independent has learned that tests on the semi-automatic gun pointed by Griffin at gardai during an attempted robbery have confirmed that it was loaded but not fired. The men were called on to drop their weapons before the gardai opened fire.
The dead men were Griffin, 33, from Canon Lillis Avenue in Dublin and 24-year-old Eric Hopkins from Lower Rutland Street in Dublin. Hopkins was unarmed.
Both men are understood to have died from a single gunshot wound through the heart. A third shot was also fired by gardai, but did not hit its intended target. The entire episode was recorded on CCTV.
Mr Ahern said: "Day in, day out, people are raising the issue of crime with me, the issue that we're too soft on crime, that we need to be tougher on crime, that we need more resources, more effort."
He added: "When the gardai respond, I hope then people don't get weak-kneed."
A nationwide telephone poll conducted for the Sunday Independent found that a massive 87 per cent agree with Mr Ahern and believe that the gardai had acted correctly at Lusk, while only 13 per cent felt they had not.
Similarly, a massive 81 per cent believed it appropriate that gardai use firearms, as opposed to stun guns (19 per cent), to confront the four-man gang.
But support for the gardai declines appreciably in relation to their dealings with the staff of a shop adjoining the post office. Of those polled, 56 per cent said the gardai should have told the manager and staff, while a still significant 44 per cent said they should not.
The robbers arrived at the scene just after 8am in stolen cars with false number plates. Gardai had had the post office under surveillance. One of the men was shot dead at the scene, the other died from gunshot wounds in hospital.
Griffin, the gang leader, has been a major crime figure in the north Dublin area for more than a decade. Two family members are either in jail or are being prosecuted for drug-supply offences. The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) is understood to have received ?1.2m from members of the family, including the deceased, in tax assessments on the income they are suspected to have earned from crime.
A relative of Griffin is suspected of being one of the main suppliers of cocaine in north Dublin.
Known as "Colly", Colm Griffin grew up in the Sheriff Street area of the north-inner city. He became well known to gardai in the area for shoplifting, theft and joyriding.
In the Eighties, he moved heavily into armed robbery and developed a notorious reputation in the area as a violent criminal. Last year he was heavily involved in robberies in the Dublin Port area.
This came about after the Provisional IRA abducted and shot two of its own terrorists who had been running its criminal 'fundraising' operation in Dublin. They were taken across the border, tortured and shot as a "punishment" because they had "sticky fingers", according to security sources.
The criminal 'fundraising' operation was then controlled from Belfast by a so-called 'adjutant' of the Provisional IRA.
This man recruited what security sources said were "ordinary" criminals, including Griffin, to carry out a series of armed robberies "so there would be no Provo fingerprints", according to a senior security source.
In January 2004, one particular consignment was taken from a warehouse in Dublin. Gardai had a surveillance team on the warehouse and intercepted and retrieved the targeted goods.
Gardai conducted lengthy interviews with the manager of the warehouse and came to the conclusion that he was entirely innocent.
At a later stage, however, gardai became aware that this warehouse manager was visited by two leading Provisional IRA members, including a man released under the Good Friday Agreement, after being convicted of the killing of a Garda.
"That meeting was frightening for the guards. They thought they were going to top the warehouse manager, so they intervened and arrested all three of them," a security source said.
The Provisional IRA was furious. The so-called "ordinary" criminals, including Griffin, were called in by the IRA's so-called 'adjutant' and ominously warned that the Provisional IRA believed that they were either under surveillance, or they were informing to the Garda.
The so-called 'adjutant' threatened all of them, including Griffin, telling them that if gardai ever infiltrated them again, they would all be killed.
In effect, the "ordinary" criminal gang was "robbing to order" for the IRA, according to security sources.