Locals speak of the fear of reprisals in the aftermath of Aidan O’Driscoll’s killing. Noel Baker reports
AIDAN O’DRISCOLL moved in similar circles to everyone else — family, community, sporting, social. But there was another circle that was very different, one maybe even unknown to him but which finally tightened around him with such devastating effect on a Cork City street on Wednesday.
There are fears the 37-year-old’s violent passing, gunned down on the Old Commons Road near Blackpool village, could spark further bloodshed or retaliation, yet gardaí yesterday signalled that in many ways this case is an open book: there is no intelligence to suggest any kind of recent internal feud within dissident republicanism. Aidan O’Driscoll had not come to garda attention in recent times. He was working as a painter and decorator, essentially a nine-to-five existence, yet for the Ballyvolane native, his death was the end of a chequered adult life.
He was a father, a partner, a son, a sportsman, a sibling and also, according to informed sources, a well-known dissident republican who had already come under violent scrutiny. He was the victim of a punishment-style shooting in June 2013 when he was shot in the legs, an act later claimed by the Real IRA as having been in response to “unrepublican conduct”. That it has since been reported that this act may have been “by appointment”, highlights the strange machinations of the dissident world.
O’Driscoll’s nickname of ‘the beast’ dated back to his days playing football. As if to illustrate that the victim of a daylight gun attack had a life before this violent end, Delanys GAA club used its Facebook page yesterday to announce that as a mark of respect to Aidan O’Driscoll, his partner and his family, it was cancelling all club activities this weekend. It also featured a picture of a lighted candle.
Yesterday a spokesman for Delanys recounted how O’Driscoll had played with the club all his life — hurling and football, at every level. His last match was just four weeks ago against Nemo Rangers in a Junior 2 League Final, while two of his siblings are heavily involved at the club in playing and coaching. According to another source yesterday, O’Driscoll’s ‘beast’ moniker was well-earned — a big, physical, aggressive presence who was a great target for any high ball being dropped in, and woe betide any marker who got in the way. The violent death of the full-forward means the cancellation of club functions this coming weekend, including the children’s Christmas party. The club also said it will speak to O’Driscoll’s family before deciding its next steps regarding any tribute.
As gardaí yesterday continued door-to-door inquiries and combed CCTV footage from near the crime scene, indications were that it was simply too early to determine who would carry out such a brutal attack, or the reasons why.
Back in June 2005, O’Driscoll was among five men convicted by the Special Criminal Court in Dublin of membership of an illegal organisation. Then aged 26 and living at Glenheights Park, Ballyvolane, O’Driscoll had pleaded not guilty to membership of an illegal organisation styling itself Óglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the Irish Republican Army, otherwise the IRA, on December 15, 2003. During the 20-day trial O’Driscoll exercised his right not to give evidence. Ultimately, Mr Justice Richard Johnson said the court accepted beyond a reasonable doubt the evidence of Assistant Commissioner Jerry Kelly and Det Chief Supt Michael McAndrew — evidence he said was corroborated by the failure of each of the accused to answer material questions relating to membership when questioned by the gardaí.
O’Driscoll was sentenced to three years in prison, but in May 2008 the convictions of all five men were quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal, which found the Special Criminal court did not have the jurisdiction to try them because they were not charged “forthwith” after they were arrested. Lawyers for the men had argued over jurisdiction because of the failure to charge them after they were held for more than 12 hours. Four of the five men had been on bail pending the outcome of the appeal and only O’Driscoll had been in custody. Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said the Court of Criminal Appeal’s hands were tied because of a Supreme Court ruling in an earlier case. In a statement issued shortly afterwards the 32 County Sovereignty Movement said it believed there had been no grounds to charge the men in the first place and that “what they have gone through in the intervening five years is nothing short of serious political harassment and a wholesale attack on their civil liberties”. Yet O’Driscoll’s level of support within the dissident republican movement would not always stay at this high level.
It is understood O’Driscoll was chief of staff of the Real IRA’s southern command up to 2012, before the shooting dead of Real IRA figurehead, Alan Ryan, in Dublin.
It is also understood that Ryan and O’Driscoll were allies and that the Corkman rose up the ranks even as the September 2012 murder of Ryan on a north Dublin City St destabilised the small but volatile world of dissident republicanism. Ryan had been jailed in 2000 over the discovery of a Real IRA training camp but had also been under threat from a criminal gang at the time of his killing. O’Driscoll lived for a time in Dublin and was certainly not around the Cork area for a time. There is a theory that O’Driscoll may have come under suspicion from dissident colleagues of siphoning off money belonging to the Real IRA, which led to a demotion.
By June 2013 the situation had become so fraught that O’Driscoll was himself the victim of reprisals when he was shot in the leg.
The Cork 32 County Sovereignty Movement issued a statement after the shooting saying it had “been contacted anonymously by the (Real) IRA using a recognised codeword”. The statement said the victim, who it did not name, had served time in Portlaoise prison for IRA membership, but was subsequently acquitted. It further explained that after his release he had moved to Dublin but more recently had returned to live in his native Cork. The shooting had taken place at a location known as “the Long Lane” in the Dublin Hill/Ballyvolane area, with O’Driscoll later presenting with an injury at Cork University Hospital. He never made a complaint to gardaí about the incident. The Cork 32 County Sovereignty Movement said “he was shot in the leg for his unrepublican conduct”.
Since then, however, it is understood that there was no garda warning that his life was under any threat, nor was there any indication that he had come to garda attention this year. But clearly, something, somewhere, was happening.
Just last year gardaí wanted to speak to O’Driscoll about a brutal crucifixion-style attack on a member of the Traveller community. He was arrested and questioned regarding the incident, carried out against a trader from Rathkeale in Co Limerick and which involved the victim being lured to a house where he was then tied to a chair and a nail gun was used to manacle his feet to the floor. It was some time before the man managed to extricate himself and raise the alarm. O’Driscoll denied any involvement and he was never charged in connection with it.
Now gardaí are seeking the men responsible for O’Driscoll’s death. There were at least two attackers. Who were they? Why did they do it? Might there be ramifications for others as a result? One local person said yesterday there was now a “fear factor” in the area, with people concerned about retaliation. There is a hope that there will be a heightened garda presence to help put minds at ease.
Facebook tributes flooded in yesterday, praising O’Driscoll as a “gent” and commending his work in GAA circles or recalling times growing up in Ballyvolane. There were suggestions yesterday that O’Driscoll was due to get married next year to his longtime partner, who is from a highly regarded and well-respected family. Whatever the future held, it was altered irrevocably on Wednesday night.
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