A DISSIDENT IRA man was killed in a shootout with gardai last night during the attempted hold-up of a £300,000 cash consignment.The renegade Provo was one of six men, armed with an AK47 assault rifle and handguns, who were engaged in a dramatic gunfight with gardai on the main Dublin-Wexford road.
In a terrifying twist to the incident, the gang members tried to ram a bus with young children off the road in a bid to escape the huge garda net.
Armed detectives from the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) swooped on the robbery gang when they blocked the road in front of the Securicor armoured van. The dead man, named as Ronan McLoughlin from Dublin, was hit as he shot at the gardai.
Five other suspects, all from Dublin, were arrested after they took to the fields. The IRA splinter gang appeared to be trying to take advantage of the Blue Flu protest by thousands of gardai.
Last night, security sources said the attempted heist was a fundraising operation by the a renegade IRA gang which is as yet unnamed but is said to share the political views of the so-called 32-County Sovereignty Committee.
All five suspects said to have been members of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA until recently were being held under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act. The men, all in their 20s and 30s and with addresses in Dublin, were taken to garda stations in Bray and Shankill.
The arrests marked the culmination of a painstaking weeklong surveillance operation by detectives.
A senior officer said: ``Since the IRA ceasefire we have been keeping close tabs on these people ... because they could go into militant mode at any time.''
The dramatic chain of events unfolded around 5.15pm at Callanstown, two and half miles outside Ashford, when the gang dressed in local authority dayglo jackets set up a diversion for ``roadworks''. When the Securicor van, with around £300,000 collected from shops across the south east, approached, the armed and masked gang members piled out of a Ford Transit van.
At this stage, members of the elite Emergency Response Unit who had kept the gang under surveillance for the past week descended on the scene.
They called on the maverick Provos to lay down their weapons but were met with a hail of gunfire. The gardai returned fire as the gang spread in all directions, while continuing to shoot at the officers.
McLoughlin, in his 20s from Whitehall, was shot in the hail of bullets as he shot at officers while trying to get into a passing vehicle. His body was taken to Loughlinstown Hospital last night after an examination by Assistant State Pathologist Dr Marie Cassidy.
Some of the gunmen jumped into a getaway car they had at the scene, ramming a busload of children from Dublin in a bid to speed away. But their way was blocked and the men were arrested. The remainder of the gang took to the fields and were later arrested.
At the scene, the detectives recovered an AK47 assasult rifle, a pump action shotgun and two handguns. A replica RPG7 grenade launcher was also found, which was to be used to intimidate the three Securicor staff.
It was the latest successful operation for the ERU, which did not participate in yesterday's `Blue Flu' action because of their involvement in the undercover operation.
The roadway was last night still closed as forensic experts searched for spent cases and was not likely to open again until later today at the earliest.