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21 May 1998 Edition

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O'Toole stable after shooting

Surrounded by flowers by his hospital bed a slightly subdued yet stable Larry O'Toole spoke this week to Michael Pierse.

Contrasting strangely with his charateristically jovial demeanour, Larry spoke frankly but in an almost detached manner, typical of someone who has not been afforded the time to overcome a deeply traumatic event.

The lone gunman had calmly entered St Joseph's Church in Ballymun last Saturday during a Holy Communion ceremony and strolled up the right-hand aisle. He fired a shot in the air which prompted Larry to push his wife to the ground to shield her. He then shot Larry in the lower back. Fellow Dublin SF representative and friend Councillor Christy Burke commented that it was typical of Larry to put the ``well being of others to the forefront.''

Lar, Larry's son, was shot in the head and chest as he attempted to capture the gunman. He is still in intensive care, but has no life-threatening injuries.

Looking healthy for a man with a bullet lodged in his stomach, Larry thanked all those republicans and anti-drug activists who had supported him through the emotional turmoil. He gave special thanks to his family for their ongoing support and to the staff at the hospital who he said were very helpful and caring. He expected to be released pending a decision from the doctors on whether it would be more damaging to remove the bullet or allow it to remain.

The SF representative had confronted the drug-dealing gunman a month ago. He had told him that ``his acivities were unacceptable and were damaging to the local community'' and had implored him to stop these activities. This stance had led to his shooting in front of a group of 60 children making their holy communion. The terrified children were comforted by frightened parents. 37 of the children were so traumatised by the event that they were unable to return to the church grounds the following day.

Larry spoke of the terror inflicted on his own grand-children. Grandaughter Laura (8) was one of those too anxious to return to the church and he described her as being very upset. Councillor Christy Burke called on the Minister for Education this week ``to provide adequate counselling services for the children and others that suffered.''

Gerry Adams was one of those to visit Larry during the week. He said ``last weekend's shooting of Larry and his son Lar was a worrying development.... Community activists have often stood alone against repeated intimidation from drug dealers.'' The SF President apportioned the reponsibility for action on this issue with the Government and emphasised the need for ``an integrated strategy which helps the addicts and which tries to put forward proper remedial treatment and facilities...They must really tackle drug dealers in our communities.''

The irrepressible O'Toole expressed concern that ``a known drug dealer could have a firearm in his possession and possibly concealed in his flat.'' This development certainly is a worrying one and points to the possibility of future attacks on anti-drug activists unless Government action is taken. A man apprehended following the attack is currently being held in Garda custody.

Adams led the tributes to O'Toole and commented that ``Larry has been an example to many of us over the years and Dublin Sinn Féin activists will take their lead from him.'' Councillor Christy Burke, who also visited Larry, said that ``if anything he's stronger and more determined than ever.''
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