THE mayor of Limerick has paid tribute to the lives of two Detective Gardaí – one murdered in the line of duty and the other seriously injured in a botched robbery by an IRA gang – on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the atrocity in Adare, Co Limerick.
Mayor Michael Collins said the “horror and revulsion” of the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the attempted murder of his partner Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan, remains in the hearts and minds today.
The two armed special branch detectives were escorting a post office cash and mail van through Adare on June 7, 1996, when their unmarked Garda car was rammed from behind by members of a Munster Provisional IRA unit.
Detective McCabe was killed almost instantly and Detective O’Sullivan shot 11 times when members of the gang sprayed the Garda car with automatic gunfire.
The botched robbery of the mail van sent shockwaves through the country, and irrevocably changed the lives of the families of the two Detective Gardaí, who in 2018, were awarded the Freedom of Limerick by Limerick City and County Council.
The fatal gun attack occurred at a fraught time in the State, just 19 days prior to the unrelated murder of Sunday Independent journalist, Veronica Guerin, shot dead by those aligned to the notorious Dublin gangster John Gilligan.
Four members of the gang that killed Detective McCabe, including Pearse McAuley, Michael O’Neill, Jeremiah Sheehy and Kevin Walsh, were initially charged with murder but, the State controversially accepted manslaughter pleas by the four after key witnesses refused to co-operate following IRA intimidation.
A fifth man, John Quinn, was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery of the mail van, on the day.
Two other men are still wanted by gardai for questioning about the detective’s killing.
Sinn Féin fought a lengthy campaign for the killers early release as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, which was vehemently opposed by the McCabe family.
In a statement released today, ahead of a wreath laying ceremony in Adare on Monday, Mayor Collins recalled the words of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe’s daughter, Stacey, who, at the 20th anniversary commemoration ceremony in 2016 offered that their lives were destroyed and that “every day it breaks our hearts that (my father) is not here”.
Mayor Collins said: “That fateful morning of the 07 June 1996, Jerry and his partner Garda Detective Ben O’Sullivan bade farewell to their loved ones as usual as they went to work to the serve and protect the people of Limerick – like any other work day – and they were ambushed.”
“It was a horrific act that shocked us to our core, and it was an affront against our democracy and our sense of decency. It shattered our idea of security, how could someone be gunned down just for doing their job.”
“But it wasn’t just that members of the Gardaí being attacked, these were men with families and young children. How their lives would be irrevocably changed. They were members of our community, men who could be relied on to support events and help out when needed.”
Mayor Collins added: “Twenty-five years on now and that same horror and revulsion remains with the people of Limerick. Many of us still remember that day and were stunned by the reports.”
“Our thoughts and best wishes are with Jerry’s widow Ann and her family, and Ben and his family. It is something they have had to live with and cope with daily.”
He said the killing was “a black day for An Garda Síochána for Limerick and Ireland, but I’m reminded of the words of Ben, ‘You’re never expected to forget something like that, you’re not supposed to forget that, you’re supposed to take up the gauntlet and accept that it happened; you cannot turn the clock backwards’”.
“We will always remember this terrible incident and will continue to work so there is no repeat. To Jerry and Ben, recipients of the Freedom of Limerick, thank you,” Mr Collins added.
Detective McCabe’s eldest son John McCabe, who is a Garda serving in Shannon, said: “It’s hard to believe it’s 25 years, it really only feels like yesterday.”
“It was marked at 20 years, and gardai wanted to mark it again this year, because a lot of Dad’s friends and colleagues have either passed away in the meantime, so a lot won’t be around in another 25 years, so it is nice to mark it,” Mr McCabe said.
“The garda family always comes through, it’s tight-knit, thousands have supported us,” he added.
Detective McCabe was also one of 89 officers whose lives were lost in the line of duty in the State, remembered at the Annual Garda Memorial Day held at Dublin Castle on May 22 last.
Detective McCabe’s family watched the ceremony online for the second consecutive year due to restrictions on attendance at the event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I did watch it at home and I have to say it was a very moving to watch it and to not be able to go there. It is a well deserved ceremony for all the gardai who gave their life in the line of duty,” Ann McCabe said.
“It was so well done and I’m very proud of all the members of An Garda Siochana, the Garda Band, it was just so moving for me, as I’m sure it was for every other member and all the other families that were watching; it’s just unfortunate we couldn’t be there due to the circumstances.”
Confirming her attendance at Monday’s wreath laying ceremony in Adare, the Minister for Justice, Heather Humphries said Det Gda McCabe had been “brutally and callously murdered, while carrying out his sworn duty to protect the people of this State, in the unprovoked gun attack.”
“The murder of Jerry McCabe was a particularly vicious crime, I can still recall the shock and revulsion of the public across the country, but particularly those in Limerick where Jerry lived with his wife Ann and their five children,” she said.
“I know that the pain of his loss is still deeply felt by his family and by his colleagues in An Garda Síochána after 25 years, and I would like to express my sincere sympathies to Ann McCabe at this very poignant time for her and for her children and family.”
Minister Humphries said the two Limerick detectives “were in my thoughts” when she attended last month’s Annual Garda Memorial Day.
“At the ceremony I noted the immense service which the members of An Garda Síochána have provided to the State during the most challenging of times. Their dedication and loyalty has never faltered even when severely tested,” Ms Humphries said.
“The serious injuries sustained by two Gardaí who were recently shot at while doing their duty in Blanchardstown, Dublin, once again reminded us of the dangers the men and women of An Garda Síochána face every day,” she added.
“When Gardaí put on their uniform to go to work, they don’t know what lies ahead. We must always remember that in wearing the uniform and serving the Irish people, they place our protection and their duty to the State above their own safety.”
Minister Humphries said that “as we approach 2022, the centenary of the formation of An Garda Síochána, the dedication that Gardaí like Jerry McCabe have shown in preserving law, order and the security of our country since the foundation of the State cannot be understated, and we will will recognise and celebrate their contribution in the year ahead”.