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2 November 2015 Edition

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Garda shooting of Ronan MacLochlainn

Inquiry to report in November

• The scene 17 years ago after the shooting near Ashford, County Wicklow

‘Dissident republican’ Ronan MacLochlainn was shot dead by armed detectives during an attempted security van robbery on Friday 1 May 1998, the day of the unofficial Garda strike action, ‘the Blue Flu’

CONTROVERSY surrounding gardaí shooting dead “dissident republican” Ronan MacLochlainn near Ashford, County Wicklow, in 1998 during a cash-in-transit robbery and alleged breaches of police procedure in the follow-up investigation has led to the Irish Government conceding a Commission of Investigation that has to report to the Minister for Justice by 20 November 2015.

Ronan MacLochlainn (28), from Ballymun in Dublin, was killed by armed detectives during an attempted security van robbery by what the mainstream media has dubbed “the Real IRA” on Friday 1 May 1998, the day of the unofficial Garda strike action, “the Blue Flu”.

The Garda ambush was a joint operation by the Emergency Response Unit and the  National Surveillance Unit.

Although MacLochlainn was carrying a handgun and the five others with him were armed, no shots were fired by the raiders. Nevertheless, 12 shots were fired by three gardaí as MacLochlainn tried to escape by commandeering a passing car. He died from a single bullet wound to the chest. The National Surveillance Unit garda who fired the fatal shot was shot dead accidentally by a colleague three years later.

A 2009 inquest jury returned a verdict of “death by misadventure” but MacLochlainn’s partner, Gráinne Nic Gibb, has waged a determined campaign to uncover the truth of what happened that day.

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• Gráinne Nic Gibb holds a picture of her partner Ronan – she is determined to uncover the truth

In 1999, she took a civil case against the state, seeking damages for “unlawful, wrongful and intentional killing and assault and for negligence and breach of duty”. In 2006, the state claimed privilege in relation to certain police documents. 

She then took a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), alleging the state failed to carry out an effective official investigation into the fatal shooting in accordance with the terms of Article 2 of the Convention. 

In her submission to the ECHR, Gráinne Nic Gibb made several complaints, including that the coroner refused to order that certain documents be disclosed by the police or that a commanding officer or a garda in the unit actually involved in the operation be called to give evidence.

The ECHR agreed but the case was struck out on the grounds that a Commission of Inquiry by the Irish Government would meet Ireland’s obligations under the Convention.

The Commission of Inquiry, with its sole member being Mary Rose Gearty SC, began in July 2014 and opened public hearings on 8 September this year.

It has heard contradictory statements from gardaí involved in the operation and that National Surveillance Unit cars had not only left the scene immediately afterwards (corrupting the forensic integrity of the crime scene) but this important fact had been withheld from investigators.

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• Ivor Callely

A passing woman motorist who said she had to take cover with the five children with her (ranging from two years to 12 years) told the Commission that she was so concerened about a number of events that day that she wrote to Ivor Callely, then her local Fianna Fáil TD. Two detective chief superintendents then called to her home three months after the shooting.

Care worker Aisling Gray was asked if she knew anyone in “the IRA” and it was suggested that she would say nothing more about her complaints to Ivor Callely.

“They told me I was lucky to be alive, that the people involved [in the security van raid] were the same people who did the Omagh bomb,” in which 29 people were killed in 1998 by the group called the “Real IRA”.

“I was terrified, I felt very intimidated. I was on the couch and they seemed to be towering over me.

“They told me they hoped they wouldn’t be hearing any more about the incident. They said, ‘We’re not going to hear any more about this, are we?’

“I was to be quiet and not to talk about it – that’s what I took from it.”

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