The digger seized at the botch ATM raid in Virginia in August 2019

Failed appeal against sentence for part in ATM thefts

Estimated €790K from machines in five locations before botched raid led to arrests

One of three Monaghan brothers who were part of a notorious cross-Border gang that stole an "eye-watering" amount of money from ATMS has failed in an appeal against his jail sentence.

The three had all pleaded guilty at the Special Criminal Court last year to being part of a gang that used stolen diggers, trailers and jeeps to rip ATMs out of the walls of premises in Cavan, Meath and Monaghan between 2018 and 2019.

The gang, from south Armagh and north Monaghan, was eventually foiled in August 2019 when specialist gardaí pounced on the attempted theft of an ATM in Virginia, Co Cavan, by ramming a stolen jeep the gang was using.

Brothers Stephen, Gerard and Ciaran Duffy received a combined sentence of 19 years and six months delivered by Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding at the Special Criminal Court.

In December 2021, Gerard Duffy (32) of Greagh, Loughnamore, Co Monaghan, pleaded guilty to the attempted theft of an ATM at the Riverfront Bar & Restaurant, Main Street, Virginia, Co Cavan, on August 14, 2019.

He had been charged with the serious offence of 'the attempted theft of the ATM and its contents for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organisation, contrary to Section 73 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006'. Gerard Duffy received a sentence of eight years and nine months' imprisonment with the last year suspended.

Yesterday at the Court of Appeal, lawyers for Gerard Duffy argued that the Special Criminal Court may have unwittingly given excessive weight to the sentence when hearing descriptions of other activities of the gang.

Hugh Hartnett SC said his client had pleaded guilty before the trial began but an "excessive" headline sentence had been fixed at 11 years' imprisonment. He said Duffy had received a 20 per cent reduction for pleading guilty but said 20-30 per cent was appropriate. He added that just a final year of the sentence being suspended was inadequate.

Mr Hartnett said Duffy had no serious convictions and was "effectively sentenced for a first offence".

The barrister said that Gerard Duffy received the same sentence as Ciaran but had pleaded guilty to a further offence after his release from Garda custody. Counsel said his client should have therefore received a shorter sentence than his brother.

Mr Hartnett said that while he acknowledged his client was part of an organised gang, he was not part of an international drug gang involved in deaths or murders.

He said descriptions of other raids in the area had been presented to the court but his client was only connected to the incident in Virginia.

"The gang was not one of teenagers stealing sweeties," Mr Hartnett admitted but added that it was not one "involved in death, murder or assassinations".

Fiona Murphy SC, for the State, said the Special Criminal Court needed to know the other activities of the gang to know what type of criminal organisation was before them and that it was appropriate that they heard them.

She described the crimes as "very serious", noting that they were committed in rural areas where the loss of an ATM and its cash would cause "huge disruption".

She said buried money found by gardaí at a shed and land used by the gang proved there had been other robberies as nothing was gained from the botched Virginia raid.

She said the 20 per cent reduction was appropriate because the guilty plea was not entered at an early stage.

She said the suspended year Duffy received was also appropriate because there was no addiction issue at play whereby Duffy could say that he was reformed of drug use and was looking forward.

In dismissing the appeal today, Mr Justice George Birmingham said the offences were serious ones carried out by a criminal gang who, it was estimated, stole €790K.

He said it was right that the Special Criminal Court heard of the gang's other activities and that the 11-year headline sentence identified by the court was appropriate and not unwittingly influenced by hearing of the other raids.

Mr Justice Birmingham said that, while Gerard Duffy's brother received the same sentence, he noted the DPP argument that Ciaran Duffy could have received a lengthier sentence.

He said the guilty plea was not an early one as it was received one month before the scheduled trial and the discount of 20% was not inappropriate.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the sentencing court did not fall into an error in principle and had correctly identified the offending as being in the lower range of the highest tier of offending.

Mr Justice Birmingham then dismissed the appeal.

At the trial, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said there was "significant planning and organisation" involved in the thefts of the ATMs which put "fear" in rural communities of criminal organisations. He noted that rural areas were already losing ATM machines.

Mr Justice Hunt said "eye-watering" amounts of money were involved in gang's thefts and expressed "considerable surprise" that the three men would be involved to such an extent in criminality given their work history in construction and their social and economic standing.

At a previous hearing, Detective Garda Vincent O'Boyle said the gang stole ATMs from Ballybay and Castleblayney in Co Monaghan, Kingscourt in Co Cavan, and two ATMs on the same night in Kells, Co Meath, between December 16, 2018, and April 19, 2019, before the attempt at Virginia on August 14, 2019.

Regarding the Virginia attempt - the gang's sixth effort - the court heard that around 2.15am a 14-tonne digger was stolen from the site of a fire station which was then under construction.

Once stolen, via the use of bolt-cutters later found in a stolen Toyota Landcruiser recovered at the scene, the digger immediately travelled in convoy with the Landcruiser for about 800 metres towards the ATM, which was housed in the wall of the Riverfront Hotel on Virginia's main street.

The court heard that when the bucket of the excavator was metres from the ATM a Garda Range Rover rammed a stolen Toyota Landcruiser and that three culprits fled the scene with gardaí in pursuit on foot.

Gardaí had also put the yard in Tullypole under surveillance and that two bags containing €298,900 were recovered along with a money-counting machine.

When Gerard Duffy was arrested, he commented to a Garda at Carrickmacross Garda Station "do you think I'm fucked?" and "it wasn't me with the bucket". When Gerard Duffy was interviewed, he claimed that he owed €10k and had to do "a job" after having a row in a pub or he would be shot.

Ciaran Duffy, then 29, of the same address, pleaded guilty at the court to three offences connected to the same investigation.

He pleaded guilty to participating in criminal activities while in a Toyota Avensis at Tullypole, Moynalty, Co Meath on August 20, 2019 by participating in the movement of cash on behalf of a criminal organisation.

He also pleaded guilty to attempting to commit an offence under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Act by attempting to steal the ATM and its contents at the Riverfront Bar & Restaurant.

He further pleaded guilty to participating in or contributing to the possession of cash at Tullypole, Moynalty, on August 14, 2019, intending to facilitate the commission of an offence by a criminal organisation. Ciaran Duffy also received a sentence of eight years and nine months with the final year suspended.

Eldest brother Stephen Duffy, then 35, of Tullynahinera, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, admitted to possessing cash at The Yard, Tullypole, Moynalty, Co Meath, on August 20, 2019, in association with a criminal organisation. He received a sentence of four years and nine months' imprisonment with the final nine months suspended.