Before I go into the details of what happened at Emyvale, County Monaghan on the evening of Monday last there are two points I want to make clear. There is a long and hallowed tradition in our country of respect for the dead irrespective of who they are or the circumstances in which they died. Funerals are traditionally dignified occasions where the feelings of grieving relatives are treated with the utmost regard and sympathy. In common with the rest of us — after all, we are all part of one and the same community — the members of the Garda Síochána know and are aware of and accept that tradition of respect for the dead and for funerals.
The gardaí exist for a very specific purpose, to uphold the law of the land. That is their duty, a duty they swear to fulfil without fear or favour when they are inducted into the Garda Síochána. They cannot and must not be expected to turn a blind eye or use discretion where a serious breach of the law is involved. Let there be no mistake about it, the presence of masked men in paramilitary uniforms discharging firearms in any part of our territory is, no matter what the circumstances, a serious offence.
The incidents that occurred on Monday evening related to the funeral of the late James Lynagh. We have another worthy tradition of speaking no ill of the dead and I shall respect that, too. I do not propose to say anything of what he was, or what he may have done, or the manner of his death. The simple fact is that on Monday he was dead and as an initial stage of his funeral his body had to be conveyed from Craigavon Hospital to his home. It was obvious to everybody this would not be a normal funeral, that an exceptionally large crowd could be expected to be in attendance and also that there was the possibility that some form of paramilitary demonstration would take place in breach of the law. This placed the gardaí in a most unenviable situation.
If the possibility of an unlawful demonstration were to be completely ruled out, gardaí would have to be in attendance in such numbers and so close to the centre of things that their presence could be regarded as, at best, insensitive and, at worst, as provocative and overbearing. The other alternatives was for the gardaí to respect the dignity that belongs to all funerals, to facilitate the easy passage of the funeral along the route it was to follow and to maintain a discreet presence, to monitor what was happening and to prevent, as far as possible, any unlawful activity from taking place. On the basis of the professional judgment of the senior Garda officers who met to consider the matter, this was the action decided upon and this is what Monday evening's Garda operation was designed to achieve.
The funeral, as expected, was a particularly large one, accompanied by a big number of cars. On its way from the Border to Monaghan it had to pass through Emyvale which is approximately five miles from the Border. As arranged, the gardaí were present in discreet numbers, some in uniform and some detectives in plain clothes. At Emyvale the funeral paused, ostensibly to allow the coffin to be carried through the village. When the hearse stopped, cars from the following cortege blocked the road by parking three abreast across it. The coffin was removed from the hearse and was shouldered by six men in relays through the village, flanked on both sides by walking men and women wearing masks and dark glasses. When this procession reached the end of the village the cortege stopped and immediately the crowd, estimated to be in the region of 700, tightened in close around it and linked arms. At this, three men, in battle dress and black balaclavas and carrying what appeared to be high powered rifles quickly emerged from a nearby laneway. They lined up at the side of the coffin and fired some single shots followed by a burst of shots before retreating through the crowd, which broke into cheers, facilitated the retreat of the gunmen and obstructed the gardaí who were close at hand from pursuing them.
Two Garda detectives who were manning a car patrolling a side road observed the same gunmen who had been followed by uniformed gardaí. The detectives' car was observed by the crowd to be blocking the road and preventing the gunmen's escape. The crowd surrounded the car in which one of the detectives were sitting and proceeded to heave it over a two foot high wall to drop it about four feet lower than the road into a stream about five feet wide and eight feet deep. It must be borne in mind that at this stage the life of the garda inside the car was in considerable danger. Apart from any other injury he might sustain, the engine of the car was running so there was a real danger that the car would go on fire.
The detective who remained outside the car called on the crowd to stop their attack on the car with his colleague inside. As the crowd ignored his call and in view of the imminent danger to his colleague, he then fired six or seven bursts of automatic fire from his submachine gun over the heads of the crowd. The detective who was in the car, which landed on its roof, succeeded in extricating himself by breaking out through the rear car window. As he emerged from the car he, with two other uniformed gardaí who had been pushed into the stream, was showered with stones by the violently aggressive crowed. The detective who had fired the earlier shots at this stage drew his hand gun and fired one further shot over the heads of the crowd in an effort to make them disperse and to save his colleagues and himself from possible serious injury. The crowd then withdrew, the gunmen having by this time made good their escape. A uniformed sergeant and garda sustained some injuries which are not thought to be of a serious nature. They and the detective who was in the overturned car suffered a degree of shock. The entire incident, dramatic and violent as it was, took no more than a matter of minutes.
I have to exercise great restraint and caution in commencing on the incidents I have just described, as I understand there is every possibility that at least some of those responsible for the outrageous behaviour towards the Garda, as well as the other matters, will be brought before the courts and I am anxious that no comment of mine might even appear to be prejudicial to those who will face criminal charges arising out of these events. I ask all other Deputies to exercise similar restraint for the very same reason.