AN armed gang torched a notorious Dublin pub today.
The raiders held up a staff member at The Players Lounge and ordered money from the safe, before setting the pub on fire.
The premises -- owned by John Stokes, the father of Celtic star Anthony -- was the scene of a shooting last year in which three innocent men were injured and was also targeted by gardai in anti-RIRA raids.
At 2am today, a four-man gang broke into the premises, tied up an employee and robbed money from a safe before setting the blaze which completely gutted the pub.
The employee held up in the raid managed to escape without injury.
Gardai have launched a major investigation and the bar - run by the father of Celtic and Ireland football star Anthony Stokes - was sealed off this morning.
John Stokes was arrested at the bar last May when Special Branch detectives staged an early morning raid on the pub. He was unavailable for comment today.
The bar hit the headlines in August 2010 when three innocent men, doorman Wayne Barrett (31) and customers Brian Masterson (30) and Ossie Purcell (23), were shot by a gunman who opened fire outside the bar. No one has been charged over that incident which was part of a feud between dissident Republican and criminal gangs.
John Stokes was also brought to court over a controversial banner at the premises which barred Queen Elizabeth II from drinking there, ahead of her visit to Ireland last May.
In today’s incident four men entered the premises shortly after 2am. One of the gang was armed with a gun. The bar manager was tied up and an undisclosed amount of cash was taken from a safe.
Shortly afterwards the gang started a fire in the lounge of the pub and fled the premises. The bar manager managed to get out and was not injured in the blaze.
Four units of Dublin Fire Brigade fought to contain the flames after the alarm was raised at 2.35am, but the fire had taken hold and spread despite their efforts. It took two and a half hours to extinguish the blaze.
Today gardai said that they were treating the fire as “suspicious” and confirmed that a full technical examination of the pub would be carried out.
The interior of the popular sports and music pub is now a blackened shell.
Gardai today sealed off the scene pending a forensic examination by members of the garda technical bureau.
They also sealed off a laneway near the pub that leads to a beer garden at the back of the premises.
Sources say that the pub had been “particularly busy” over the weekend with a large number of Celtic football fans attending to watch their team on TV participating in the Dublin Super Cup tournament.
The Players Lounge made headlines in April when armed gardai used battering rams to gain entry in an early morning raid.
Up to 100 gardai took part in the operation.
The pub's owner John Stokes was one of three people arrested on that occasion.
A month earlier at Dublin District Court, Mr Stokes was ordered to take a controversial banner down from outside his pub, which barred Queen Elizabeth from the premises ahead of her visit to Ireland in May.
Mr Stokes agreed to take the sign down after gardai had raised public safety concerns and objected to the pub's application for late licence exemptions.