Roche 'feared he would be shot'

An Government minister feared he would be shot when confronted today by an armed gang who robbed a hotel and golf resort.

An Government minister feared he would be shot when confronted today by an armed gang who robbed a hotel and golf resort.

Minister for European Affairs Dick Roche was leaving the five-star Marriott Druids Glen complex near Greystones, Co Wicklow, near Dublin, after a morning swim when three men in balaclavas held a gun at his back and frog-marched him back inside.

Mr Roche was taken hostage with his driver and several members of staff before being bundled into a basement room during the hold-up.

"The man with the gun was using me as a shield to go into the hotel," said Mr Roche after the incident.

"He had it in my back. I was worried going down the corridor and the stairs of the hotel that it could be discharged."

No shots were fired and nobody was injured during the hold-up.

The hostages were initially forced into the manager's office, where a sum of money was stolen, before being ordered at gunpoint down two flights of stairs and into a strong room used for storing large amounts of money and valuables.

It is believed the gang got away with up to €20,000.

Mr Roche said the gang did not recognise him as a member of the Government. He urged the robbers to stay calm as they shouted a series of orders at the hotel staff.

Gardai said the raiders fled in a dark-coloured car, possibly a Volvo, just after 9.30am.

Mr Roche, who swims at the Druids Glen complex every morning, cancelled his engagements for the rest of the day after the ordeal.

He was en route to a meeting at the European Commission offices in Dublin city when the raiders struck.

The minister said young female staff were very frightened by the armed robbery.

"I was afraid for the staff, including some young women who were clearly very frightened," the 61-year-old said.

"It's a hard thing for a young woman to have a gun literally inches in front of her face."

The hotel, set on the grounds of the 400-acre Druids Glen golf resort, is located just 20 miles south of Dublin.

Known as the Augusta of Europe, the parkland course hosted the Irish Open for several years in the late 1990s.

Garda checkpoints and air units were scrambled within minutes of the hold-up.

The Marriott Hotel issued a brief statement insisting that those caught up in the robbery would be given any help and support needed.

"No one was injured during this incident," the hotel said.

"But all possible efforts are being made to assist those guests and staff that were affected, and additional support will be available to individuals as required."

Garda Superintendent Michael Lernihan said the hunt for the gang is being aided by the garda helicopter and dozens of checkpoints.

"There was no physical harm caused, but it was a very traumatic event for the staff and the patrons involved," Mr Lernihan said.

"Certainly, if anyone from the public can help us with this, we'd appreciate it."

Mr Lernihan added: "We have a number of gardaí searching the area. We have set up checkpoints in south Co Dublin. Our air support unit was up looking for the getaway car. We are carrying out house-to-house inquiries in the general area as well."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he hopes Mr Roche and the other staff and guests will recover from their ordeal.

"I understand he is well. It has been a very traumatic incident. I hope that he and the others who were involved will be able to overcome it quickly," Mr Cowen said.

After last year's general election, Mr Roche was dropped from his senior post in the Cabinet and appointed Minister for European Affairs with responsibility for promoting the rejected Lisbon Treaty.

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