A man who was gunned down outside a school in west Belfast yesterday afternoon may have been murdered by dissident republicans, a senior police officer has said.
Chief Superintendent Jonathan Roberts, the PSNI’s district commander for Belfast, said the brutal killing was “an absolutely disgraceful and reckless act” which could have seen children being injured or killed.
While police declined to name the victim last night, saying only that he was a man aged in his 40s, he was named locally as Jim Donegan.
Mr Donegan was sitting in his red Porsche car outside St Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School on the Glen Road at around 3.15pm when he was shot several times, including at least once in the head, by a lone gunman who then fled the scene on foot.
While not commenting on a possible motive for the murder, Chief Superintendent Roberts said it’s possible that dissident republicans may have been involved.
“The involvement of dissident republicans is absolutely an option that police will keep open and it is possible that dissident republicans were responsible for this murder,” he said.
“This was an absolutely disgraceful and reckless act for which there can be no justification whatsoever. The act was carried out in the immediate vicinity of three schools where there were a large number of school pupils at the time, and it is entirely possible that we could have had a seriously injured or dead child or children as a result of this terrible act.
“There is clearly going to be a significant impact on children in this area as a result of this incident,” he added.
“Children come to school and expect to me educated, not to leave school and see an incident of this nature.
“I would imagine the children will be traumatised by this incident. There is no excuse for this whatsoever. It will also have an impact on the teachers in the schools and the wider school community.
“The community of west Belfast do not deserve this.”
The murder has been condemned by political and community representatives, including West Belfast MP Paul Maskey, who said it was “deeply concerning that this killing was carried out in full view of hundreds of kids who were leaving school at the time.”
West Belfast People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll described the incident as “horrible and deeply concerning.”
“It is especially worrying given the amount of children and young people in the area at that time, that somebody sees fit to pull a gun and open fire in the middle of the day,” he said.
Voicing his disgust at the killing, SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood commented: “It is absolutely sickening that a gun was fired in the vicinity of both a primary and secondary school.
“A number of pupils witnessed this fatality and are understandably very disturbed and frightened after this reckless act occurred nearby the school gates.
“There is absolutely no place for this in 2018; this madness belongs in the past and we cannot allow it to once again become our normality.”
Adding his condemnation, the UUP’s justice spokesperson Doug Beattie MC MLA said: “Nobody has the right to bring a gun onto the streets and act as judge, jury and executioner and there can be no justification for this brutal act.
“To murder a man as he waits to collect his son from school and in an area where many children were present, displays a particular callousness and recklessness. These children will have been terrified and traumatised at what they saw and heard at their school gates. It is simply shocking.
“The entire community must get behind the police and give them all the support they need to catch the person responsible and help put this very dangerous individual behind bars for as long as possible.”
Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry MLA branded the shooting “a disgusting and depraved crime”.
“This was a disgusting and depraved crime, made all the more heinous by the fact it was so close to a number of schools who were getting out at the time,” he said.
“I utterly condemn this killing – those who carried it out must be taken off our streets immediately. It was a reckless act which could have resulted in the additional injury or even worse of schoolchildren.
“My thoughts are with the loved ones of the deceased following this murder. We must also ensure any pupils who were in the vicinity at the time are given whatever support they need.
“If anyone has any information on this shooting, I urge them to contact police with it immediately.”
St Mary’s Grammar School issued a statement yesterday evening saying it would be closed today.
“The thoughts and prayers of the principal and all the staff are with our pupil and his family at this very sad time,” the school’s statement said.
“Ensuring that all pupils got home safely was our absolute focus following this tragic incident.
“The school will be closed on Wednesday 5th December 2018 due to the on-going investigation. The school will be providing pupils with counselling and support services.”
Chief Superintendent Roberts urged anyone who saw the victim’s red Porsche car, registration JDZ 34, close to St Mary’s Grammar School at around 3:15pm yesterday to come forward.
Police are also keen to hear from anyone who saw the gunman, who is believed to be aged in his 40s and was wearing a high-vis jacket with ‘security’ written on the back.
Anyone with video or dash cam footage taken in the area at around the time of the killing is asked to save it and get in contact investigating officers on 101.
A section of the Glen Road remained cordoned off last night while officers continued to examine the scene.