Net closing in on dissident murder suspects

It’s been four months since dissident republic leader Aidan O’Driscoll was brutally gunned down on a street in Cork. But painstaking detective work has led to the arrests of six people, and more arrests are expected, reports Eoin English

Gardaí on duty at the scene of the incident at Commons Road, Blackpool, Cork. Picture: Larry Cummins

THE net is closing on those involved in the murder of former dissident republican leader Aidan O’Driscoll, who was gunned down on the streets of Cork just over four months ago.

Gardaí are preparing files for the DPP following the arrest, questioning and release without charge of six people — the first arrests by the garda team investigating the murder of the former chief of staff of the Real IRA in Blackpool on December 7 last.

“The analysis and investigation of evidence is continuing and there will be more arrests,” said Supt Mick Comyns, the senior officer overseeing the massive investigation.

Mr O’Driscoll, a father of two from Glen Heights, Ballyvolane, on the northside of Cork City, who was engaged to be married next month to his fiancee, Marion Ryan, was gunned down on Commons Rd at around 4.45pm on December 7.

Nicknamed the “Beast” for his prowess on the GAA pitch, he had been dropped off just minutes earlier and was walking about 300 yards from Blackpool’s Church of the Annunciation when he was ambushed by two masked men, who opened fire at close range with a handgun.

He was struck at least once in the pelvis, then he turned to run back towards Blackpool village and was pursued.

He collapsed on the footpath where the gunmen walked calmly up to him and shot him another three times in the chest as he lay on the ground.

He was rushed by ambulance to Cork University Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery, but was pronounced dead around 7pm.

It is believed O’Driscoll had, just weeks before his death, aligned himself with a unit of the New IRA in Cork.

Gardaí believe his murder was ordered by former associates of his in the Real IRA arising out of bitter tensions caused by a power-struggle between members of the Real IRA and New IRA in Cork.

His killers fled the scene on foot, and made off in a silver grey Nissan Almera, registration number 01 TS 1312, which was found partially burned out a short distance away at the junction of Seminary Rd and Redemption Rd.

They were picked up in a white Vauxhall Astra estate van, registered 99 G 12357, which was found partially burned out later in Monard, Killeens, about 8km away.

Gardaí believe those involved in the killing left this area in a red Opel Astra car. That car was found two weeks later burnt-out and abandoned in a ravine near Rylane, on the Rylane to Nadd road, about 30km northwest of Cork City.

Supt Comyns said a team of more than 20 gardaí and detectives has been working full-time on the murder investigation for the last four months. It is the largest investigation he has overseen.

He said they have gathered over 10,000 hours of CCTV, some of which is still being examined, as they painstakingly piece together the movements of various people and vehicles in the days leading up to the murder, in the crucial hours and minutes before and after the cold-blooded shooting, and in the days afterwards.

They have taken over 700 statements, and collected over 250 exhibits, seizing the killers’ getaway vehicles, as well as various laptops, computers and mobile phones.

Gardaí have also seized a motorbike found burned out on the Mallow Rd on the day of the murder, and a black Toyota Avensis which had been seen in the Blackpool and Killeens areas between 2pm and 5pm on the day of the murder.

Following consideration earlier this month of the evidence gathered to date, a decision was taken to make the first arrests in the complex case.

Early on Wednesday, April 5, teams of gardaí and detectives swooped on separate addresses in Cork in a series of coordinated operations, arresting five people — four men and a woman.

Gardaí suspect they were all involved in the sourcing of the fleet of cars used by the gang involved in the shooting.

A 28-year-old man was arrested in the Mallow Rd area of Cork City, while two other men, aged 31 and 22, were arrested at a house in the Blarney area between 6.30am and 7am.

All three were detained under the provisions of Section 50 of the Criminal Justice Act and were taken to the Bridewell, Mayfield and Gurranabraher Garda stations for questioning. The act allows gardaí hold suspects for up to seven days.

Gardaí later applied at Cork District Court for an extension to their period of detention and were granted a further 72 hours — bringing the suspects’ period of detention into the weekend.

Later that Wednesday morning, gardaí arrested two more people — a 77-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman, also in the Blarney area. They were both detained under the provisions of Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act and were taken to Togher Garda Station for questioning.

It is understood they are both known to one of the men who had been arrested earlier.

The pensioner was released without charge the next day, Thursday.

Gardaí went to court that evening to secure a 24-hour extension to the woman’s period of detention, and she was released without charge the following night, Friday.

While the three men who were arrested on the Wednesday were still in custody, detectives arrested a sixth suspect, a 42-year-old man, at a house in the Ballyvolane area of Cork’s northside at about 9pm on Sunday, April 9.

He was detained under the provisions of Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, which allows gardaí to detain suspects for up to 48 hours, and he was brought to Mayfield Garda Station for questioning.

Within hours, gardaí released without charge the three men who had been arrested the previous Wednesday.

Gardaí secured a 24-hour extension of the period of detention for the 42-year-old and released him without charge on Wednesday.

Files in relation to all six are now being prepared for the DPP.

Mr O’Driscoll was convicted of Real IRA membership in 2006 and sentenced to three years in jail but his conviction was quashed on a technicality.

He lived for a time in Dublin and was closely aligned with former Real IRA leader Alan Ryan, who was shot dead in Dublin in 2012.

Gardaí believe O’Driscoll was, for a time afterwards, chief of staff of the Real IRA, before he moved back to Cork.

In a statement issued in 2013 by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Real IRA said O’Driscoll had been stood down for “unrepublican activities”.

He was shot in the legs in a punishment-style shooting in Cork in 2013, but made no complaint to gardaí.

He was also arrested in November 2015 for questioning about a crucifixion-style attack on a Traveller trader in Rathkeale whose feet were nailed to the floor with a nail gun. He was released without charge.

But Supt Comyns said irrespective of their background, nobody deserves to be gunned down on the street.

“We cannot accept that in modern society. Mr O’Driscoll was a son, a brother, and a father. He was due to be married next month. A family liaison officer has been appointed to keep the family informed of developments. The four months of investigations led to the arrests of six people, and there will be more arrests,” he said.

On the night of O’Driscoll’s removal, three men were arrested in a house in Cobh, and weapons and ammunition were seized, as part of an ongoing garda investigation into dissident republican activity in Cork.

Gardaí stressed at the time that these arrests were not directly linked to the O’Driscoll murder investigation, but that it underlined the scale of tensions and security risk posed by the power-struggle between dissident republicans in Cork.

Three men were subsequently brought before the Special Criminal Court and charged with membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh Na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA, on December 14, 2016.

One of the men was further charged with possession of a semi-automatic 9mm Walter Pistol and a sawn-off shotgun, and with possession of 22 rounds of ammunition.

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