A 39-year-old man who was part of a cross-border organised crime gang that stole over €790,000 in ATM robberies over two years, has been jailed for three years.

Niall Finnegan from Cherry Grove, Cullyhanna, Co Armagh admitted possession of €103,000 of the cash on 20 August 2019 following an ATM robbery.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt said today there was "a pressing social need" to deter people involved in these types of crimes because of the damage they do to rural and semi-rural communities and businesses where bank branches are closing, and ATMs may not be replaced after these robberies.

Niall Finnegan was involved with a cross-border organised crime gang based in south Armagh and east Monaghan which carried out six ATM raids across Cavan, Monaghan and Meath over 2018 and 2019.

The gang stole €790,000 in total, €440,000 of which gardaí recovered.

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On 14 August 2019, the gang was disturbed by gardaí as they tried to rob the ATM from a bank in Virginia, Co Cavan and three men were arrested.

The court heard that six days later, Niall Finnegan met with one of the men after he was released and went to land in Tullypole, Co Meath where they dug up some of the stolen cash from the ground and put it in a shed.

When gardaí raided it, they found €298,900 in two plastic containers. They also stopped a car Finnegan was in and found €15,000 in the footwell and another €88,900 in the boot.

Finnegan had been told he would be "looked after" but when caught admitted he had made a mistake, pleaded guilty and said he would stay out of trouble for the rest of his life.

He was a GAA referee, and the court heard the father of three was "a hard-working family man" who is involved with his community, volunteers, and shows "exceptional kindness and care" to others.

However, Mr Justice Hunt said today that Finnegan knew the background to the ATM thefts and there was "a pressing social need" to deter people from getting involved in ATM thefts.

These crimes, he said, damaged local businesses and property in rural and semi-rural areas and at a time when banks are closing branches, these ATM machines may not be replaced in these communities.

Finnegan, he said, was 39 years old, a married father of three who had bought his home, travelled widely and had no financial or addiction issues. While serious organised crime groups prey on the foolish and the desperate, he said that Finnegan would have to go to jail.

The judge said that the effect of a custodial sentence should have been a deterrent before he got involved and Finnegan should have thought about going to jail if he was caught.

He sentenced Niall Finnegan to four and a half years in prison with the final 18 months suspended.

Mr Justice Hunt also refused a request by the father of three to stay out of prison and begin his sentence after Christmas, telling him it would not be much of a Christmas with this hanging over him and "the sooner the sentence starts, the sooner it's over".

Finnegan hugged his daughter and wept in the dock and shouted at detective sergeant Mark Looby, "What do you think of that?" before he was taken away.