Saturday, 27 December 2003

CRIME : The year of criminals living dangerously

Saturday December 27 2003
In the past year there has been an increase in gangland killings and violence on our streets. On the plus side these acts of brutality have finally forced the Government to release more funding to the Garda. WILLIE DILLON reports
One of the most enduring images of 2003, a year in which crime once again made regular headlines news, happened in early November. Liam Keane, a 19-year-old youth, was photographed giving two fingers to the camera, his face a frightening mix of hostility and aggression.
He had walked free from the Central Criminal Court in Dublin after six prosecution witnesses failed to stand over the statements they made to gardai identifying him as the killer of fellow Limerick teenager Eric Leamy.
His menacing gesture, shocked the nation. To many, it was the clearest possible indication that the criminal justice system was breaking down; that the rule of law was neutered and redundant.
However in those few fleeting seconds outside the Four Courts, Liam Keane managed to achieve something even beyond the powers of many of the country's most powerful interest groups. At a time of financial rectitude, he got the government to spend more money. On the day Keane's picture dominated the front pages, Michael McDowell announced an extra €2 million, available immediately, to boost Garda numbers in the worst crime spots.
The move was specifically designed to increase Garda visibility, including a greater number of armed street patrols, in the Finglas area of Dublin and in Keane's own Limerick City.
The Minister was careful to soothe public alarm, while also flashing a bolt of steely determination in the direction of the criminals.
"It would be foolish," he said, "to think the entire criminal justice system had broken down because of the collapse of one trial. But it would be even more foolish for people to believe that they can give two fingers to the community they live in and not ultimately expect to face the wrath of the State."
It was apt that the gesticulating Keane - an innocent man in the eyes of the law - was from Limerick. The deadly tit-for-tat bloodletting in that city's seemingly intractable gang feud made headlines throughout 2003.
The violence in Limerick and the continuing spate of gangland killings in Dublin dominated the year's crime coverage. In both cities, among the criminal classes, life remained cheap and death often came with a clinical brutality.
It started almost as soon as the year had begun. On the night of January 23, taxi driver Niall Mulvihill was shot several times in the chest as he sat at the wheel of his cab at Dublin's Spencer Dock. Though seriously injured, the 57-year-old victim managed to drive away from the scene. He made a desperate attempt to reach the Mater Hospital. But at the junction of North Circular Road and Dorset Street, he passed out. His red Mercedes smashed into the rear of another vehicle, causing a four car pile-up. He died a short time later.
Mulvihill was well known in Dublin soccer circles as the manager of Sheriff United. He was not directly involved in violent crime. However he was known to gardai for some 20 years as a negotiator of dubious deals for major gangland figures. He was believed to be associated with some of the city's most ruthless criminals, including Martin Cahill. At the time of his death, he was facing a demand for €1 million from the Criminal Assets Bureau. To date, his assassin has not been caught.
On the same evening, a dramatic chain of events began in Limerick when brothers Eddie and Kieran Ryan were apparently abducted by masked gunmen. A shot was fired as they were bundled into the back of a car. Their father Eddie had been murdered more than two years previously by members of the rival Keane gang. An anonymous phone caller warned that the youths would be found on their father's grave.
Extensive searches by gardai and soldiers failed to find any trace of the missing pair, despite agonised pleas by their mother Mary.
Their uncle Johnny Ryan pledged "all-out war" if they were not returned safely. Six days later, with the pair effectively given up for dead, gang boss Kieran Keane was shot through the head in an execution-style killing on a lonely country road near the city.
Hours later, there was a sensational and puzzling development when the Ryan brothers walked into Portlaoise garda station, looking unexpectedly fresh and well. Hordes of journalists descended on their home in Kileely but the pair declined to talk about their week-long ordeal.
Five men were later charged with Kieran Keane's murder. Their trial, amid unprecedented security at the Central Criminal Court in Limerick in October, generated further major controversy. The court was unable to muster a jury of 12 Limerick people, out of an original panel of 529.
The case was subsequently relocated to Cloverhill in Dublin where a jury was sworn in the following week. At almost exactly the same time, the Liam Keane trial was dramatically unravelling at the Four Courts. One of the six prosecution witnesses in that trial made his position clear even as he approached the witness box. "I seen nothing," he shouted. "I'm answering no questions."
In early July, Johnny Ryan, uncle of the abducted brothers and spokesman for the Ryan family, was himself shot dead in cold blood. The 44-year-old father of six was gunned down while he worked on the patio of a house in the city. His death sparked a celebration in the Keanes' part of town; members of their faction waved bottles of champagne in the street.
In October, Michael Campbell-McNamara (25), who had close connections with the Keane family, was found dead in a field on the outskirts of Limerick. He had been shot once in the back of the head and stabbed four times; his hands and feet were bound.
Last weekend the five men accused of murdering Kieran Keane trial, all from Limerick, were found guilty and sentenced to life in jail.
They were James McCarthy (24), of Delmege Road, Moyross; Anthony McCarthy (21), of Fairgreen, Garryowen; Desmond Dundon (20), Hyde Road; David Stanners (31), Pineview Gardens, Moyross; and Christopher Costelloe (20), Moylish Avenue, Ballynanty.
In Dublin, gang killings claimed the lives of more than a dozen men. Most of them were young. Most of the deaths were in the northern and western suburbs of the city. Carefully planned execution-type murders have become almost routine in certain parts of the capital in recent years and 2003 was no different. Big drug profits, combined with the now inevitable presence of deadly firepower, make further deaths inevitable. Regrettably, the general public has become increasingly immune - and indifferent - to these ruthless gangland slayings.
At the end of January, Raymond Salinger (40), known to gardai as a drug dealer, died after being shot three times in the chest and arm as he sat on a bar stool in a pub in Dublin's New Street.
In March, the body of band manager Charles Merriman (27) was found at the entrance to a field in the St Margaret's area. He had been killed by a single shotgun blast to the back of the head. The victim socialised with people who were involved in the drugs trade.
In early April, Declan Griffin, was shot in the back of the head at a pub in Inchicore. He was carrying a gun and was wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time of his death. Later that month, drugs courier Paul Ryan (27), from Raheny, was found shot through the head with his hands tied on the roadside near the village of Coolderry, Co Offaly. He is believed to have been killed by the notorious Westies drug gang over a debt he had incurred.
In June, Ronald Draper was shot dead while working as a doorman at a pub in Eden Quay at 10pm on a Saturday night. His is believed to have been killed by the INLA as a direct result of a vicious gang fight in Dublin in 1999 in which an INLA man was hacked to death.
In July, David McGuinness (35) was shot twice in the head and back by men who called to his home at Balrothery estate in Tallaght.
In August, Bernard Sugg (23), a leading member of the Westies gang, died after being shot twice in the chest by two masked men as he sat with friends in a pub in Corduff, Blanchardstown. Less than three months later, a man associated with the same gang, Jason Tolan (24), sustained a fatal gunshot wound to the leg in Mulhuddart.
In October, father-of-two Patrick Sheridan (27) was found dead at Scribblestown Lane, a notorious dumping ground for murder victims. He had been shot twice in the head . He died apparently because local criminals believed he was helping gardai in Finglas.
Three men died as a result of a feud between rival groups in the Finglas and Ballymun areas. In April, father-of-two Michael Scott (25) was killed by a shotgun wound to the chest in the bedroom of his flat on Sillogue Road, Ballymun.
The following month, William O'Regan (32) died after being shot while watching TV with his girlfriend in their flat at New Cabra Road. And in July, Victor Murphy (30) was found dead at Dunsink Lane. He was apparently shot accidentally while in a car with a man who was involved in the feud.

Outside the gang realms, one of the most shocking crimes of the year was the apparently random attack on 35-year-old librarian Barry Duggan as he wheeled his bicycle along Grafton Street at 2am on a Sunday morning in April.
The Garda National Drugs Unit scored a number of notable hits during 2003. One of the most significant was in January when 1.6 tonnes of cannabis resin, worth an estimated €20 million, was seized at a business premises at Swords, Co Dublin.
In April some €1.35 million ecstasy tablets, with a street valued of €15 million, were found in North Dublin and at Ashbourne, Co Meath. It was the single biggest ecstasy haul ever in Ireland. The same month, a tonne of cannabis resin and 38 kilos of cocaine, also worth some €15 million, was seized in Lusk, Co Dublin.
"We don't talk in terms of the battle against drugs," says Supt. Barry O'Brien, of the NDU. "It's more a battle against organised crime. Drugs are the medium through which organised crime engages in its activities and generates income and power."
But the overall crime picture is not as bleak as it may look. Despite the high profile gangland activity, there are considerable grounds for optimism. The latest Garda statistics appear to show a significant improvement in total number of crimes being committed.
The most recently available figures reveal a downward trend across almost the entire spectrum of serious crime. Even the murder figures are falling. A total of 47 people were murdered in the 12 months up to the end of last October - compared with 56 during the same period a year earlier. That's a drop of 16pc. The worst month this year was January when seven people were murdered.
Other serious crimes also fell during the same period. Sxual offences were down 20pc. There were 22pc fewer assaults. Even robberies were down 7pc and burglaries fell marginally. Incidents involving the possession of drugs for sale or supply were down 8pc. There were 11pc fewer firearms offences. But the biggest single category of criminal offence - accounting for roughly half of all serious crimes committed - was theft. It rose by approximately 2.5pc during that period.
So-called non-headline crimes were also down in almost all categories. Surprisingly perhaps, car theft comes under this definition of a minor offence. Car thefts are down a full 10pc during the period in question; from 13,959 to 12,500. Speeding offences rose from 2,167 to 2,280 - up 5pc. There were 10,472 incidents of drink-driving - a 4pc decrease.
These figures will not become official until the Garda Commissioner's report for 2003 is published next year. But on the face of it, they suggest that crime is not spiralling out of control as many of us seem to believe.
But the Minister is determined not to loosen the pressure. An extra €91 million is being made available to gardai next year. This will bring the force's budget over the €1 billion mark for the first time. Tough new laws, aimed at crime gangs and their associates, are on the way early in the new year.
The clampdown is the result of a review of crime laws in other jurisdictions ordered by Mr McDowell following the collapse of the Liam Keane trial. The young man may only have had the photographer in mind when he flashed his two-finger sign.

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Top gangland drug dealer found dead in Spanish home

By Helen Bruce

Wednesday December 17 2003
THE body of a top Dublin gangland figure who lived a hedonistic lifestyle on the Costa Blanca in Spain was being flown home last night.

Drugs trafficker Liam Judge (44) was found dead in his home in Torrevieja, about 20 miles from Alicante, where he had been living with Tracey Gilligan, the daughter of convicted Dublin drug baron John Gilligan.

The body of Judge, who ran Alicante Plant Hire, a heavy machinery rental business at Las Montesonos, was flown back from Dublin in order to be buried at Allenwood, Co Kildare.

An autopsy showed that Judge died of natural causes. It was understood that 28-year-old Tracey Gilligan was back in Ireland when he died.

Sources feared that Judge may have had a heart attack brought on by his hedonistic lifestyle. "He was drinking up to three bottles of whiskey a day and was also doing cocaine," said one garda source yesterday. "He had a terrible lifestyle and it could have taken its toll. He had a bottle of whiskey for breakfast, lunch and dinner some days."

Judge was associated with the Westies drugs gang based in Blanchardstown. Officers suspect he organised drugs shipments for many criminal gangs here and was able to buy a pub in Spain with the proceeds.

He was being probed by the Criminal Assets Bureau and their investigation could still yield much of his assets.

It is believed Judge went into hiding following the kidnapping in 2002 of his estranged wife, who is not involved in crime. It is believed she was kidnapped following rumours Judge had given the Gardai information on a drug gang. She was later released.

- Helen Bruce

Sunday, 19 October 2003

Rising murder rate linked to illegal guns

Sunday Tribune

Nineteen of the 42 homicides carried out so far this year involved the use of firearms
Stephen Collins Political Editor
THE Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, is convinced that the increasing availability of illegal guns in this country is linked to the rising murder rate. He told the Oireachtas Committee on Justice during the week that guns were becoming widely available and were being imported into the country along with consignments of drugs and illegal cigarettes.

Conroy pointed out that 19 of the 42 homicides carried out so far this year involved the use of firearms. That compared with 10 involving guns in all of last year. He said that suspects had been identified for many of the murders committed this year and he believed the chances of securing successful convictions were good.

He said that another aspect of the trend was the heavy involvement of many former leading figures from the IRA and other paramilitary organisations in serious crime. The kind of weapons used by paramilitaries had found there way into the hands of organised criminals because of this.

The commissioner said that in an effort to deal with the problem Operation Lance was launched in Dublin last February. This involved a team of gardaĆ­ targeting those involved in serious crime using guns and had already resulted in a number of people being brought before the courts. This was followed up last month by Operation Crossover which was designed to detect the unlawful carriage of arms.

Members of the Special Detective Unit and the Emergency Response Unit were involved in this operation which concentrated on known flashpoints.

The commissioner said, however, that there was a problem about turning good garda intelligence work into convictions. He also pointed out that a lot of resources were required to mount surveillance operations which required six or seven officers for each suspect targeted. Even then prosecutions against gangland figures were often difficult to achieve.

"We are targeting individuals and we know who they are but getting the evidence is something different than knowing, that's our problem.

We just can't convert the intelligence into prosecutions." Some leading Irish criminals had left the country because of the pressure they were being put under by the gardaĆ­ and the Criminal Assets Bureau, and were now living in Holland and the south of Spain.

However, they had set up operation there to export drugs to Ireland and had built up extensive underground contacts in places like Holland.

As well as the involvement of paramilitaries in organised crime, the influx of non-nationals in recent years had proved another dimension to the crime problem. Some of these people were involved in gangs who were not only involved in the drugs trade but were involved in smuggling, counterfeiting, forgery and money laundering.

Conroy said that the recent Operation Quest, which targeted lap-dancing clubs, was not aimed at securing prosecutions against the women who performed in the clubs.

"On the contrary we are trying to protect these unfortunate young women. Many thought they were coming to take up jobs within the European Union but that didn't happen and they were put into prostitution." Once involved in prostitution these women were moved around the EU at a very fast rate from one country to another.

The commissioner said that in 2001 there were 58 homicides in this country, 52 were classified as murder and six as manslaughter. Out of that total an impressive 51 had been detected.

In 2002, there were 59 homicides, 52 murders and seven manslaughters of which 49 had been detected. So far this year the number of homicides was 49, involving 39 murders and three cases of manslaughter of which 24 have been detected. One of the obvious trends this year was the rising number of homicides which involved guns that amounted to almost half the cases.

Conroy said that suspects had been identified for many of the murders committed during the year to date and the chances of securing successful prosecutions was good. He pointed out that in Limerick city and the surrounding area a very substantial garda operation had been mounted this year and no resources had been spared to deal with the problems that had arisen there. He said that the operation had met with some success.
October 19, 2003

Wednesday, 15 October 2003

Irish terrorists blamed for illegal gun trade in UK

Dissident republicans accused of swapping weapons for drugs
Rosie Cowan, Ireland correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday 15 October 2003 02.53 BST
Renegade republican terrorists are trading guns for drugs with some of the UK's most dangerous criminal gangs, according to an Irish government minister.
Willie O'Dea, the junior justice minister who represents Limerick in the Dublin parliament, said large families with relatives in cities such as Manchester and Birmingham were setting up the illegal weapons deals between Irish paramilitaries and British mobsters.
An investigation by BBC Radio 4's File on 4 revealed that firearms were being supplied by the Continuity IRA, a violent offshoot of the Provisional IRA opposed to the Northern Irish peace process.
The Continuity IRA is particularly active around Limerick, nicknamed Kalashnikov city because of a recent upsurge in fatal shootings related to turf wars between families with members involved in drugs and racketeering.
"Some of the people involved in crime in Limerick have also got a base in the UK, in and around Manchester and various cities in the centre of the UK," said Mr O'Dea. "The reports I've heard would indicate those people are travelling between Ireland and the UK and are involved in various types of smuggling which involved both jurisdictions, smuggling drugs and guns."
Police sources in Belfast and Dublin said all paramilitary groups were involved to varying degrees in smuggling and other illegal moneymaking ventures.
Sources within the National Criminal Intelligence Service said they were aware of an Irish dissident link, although it was difficult to estimate how many weapons were entering the UK from this source.
A former Home Office-funded researcher claimed that in one operation, guns were smuggled to Manchester in furniture vans where one of the city's most notorious street gangs handed over drugs for them. But Greater Manchester police said they had no firm evidence that the guns came from the Irish Republic.
Community workers said guns were being sold from the car boots of vehicles cruising various parts of Birmingham. Charlene Ellis, 18, and 17-year-old Letisha Shakespeare were shot dead in the city's Aston district on New Year's day, in a feud between two rival gangs.
Gun crime in England and Wales increased by 35% last year. Of nearly 10,000 incidents, most were in towns and cities, but there was also a rise in firearms crime in rural areas.
Recent murders - including those of Marian Bates, a Nottingham jewellery shop owner, David King, a bouncer with criminal links shot dead outside a gym in Hertfordshire, and seven-year-old Toni Ann Byfield, shot dead with her father in London last month - have highlighted the issue.
A five-year mandatory sentence for carrying a firearm has done little to deter the culprits. Police say semiautomatics can be bought in London for £200-£300. Handguns are being imported from eastern Europe and beyond, and there is also a growing trade in converting fake guns to fire live ammunition.
• Leading loyalist Jim Simpson, known as "the Bacardi brigadier", is believed to have fled to Scotland after he failed to overthrow the leadership of the Ulster Defence Association in north Belfast in a dispute over money. Several houses and business premises were attacked during the attempted coup on Monday.

Sunday, 13 April 2003

Serious crime now at highest ever level

Sunday April 13 2003
ONE of Dublin's most senior police officers has warned that he does not want to see the city "turning into Limerick" in the aftermath of last week's murder of drug dealer Declan Griffin who was wearing body armour and carrying a gun when he was shot dead.

The remark by the head of the Dublin Metropolitan Region, Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty, comes as it emerges that serious crime has reached its highest ever level in the history of the State.

The figures released by the Garda claimed 105,840 "headline crimes" last year. But this excludes the category of criminal damage which was removed as a serious crime category in 2000. As the last recorded figure from criminal damage offences in 2001 was over 24,000, Garda sources say it is safe to assume that the number of serious offences, that is those which can be heard before a jury, is now at around 130,000 - by far the highest level of crime in the history of the State.

The concern about the rising level of organised crime in Dublin was raised by Assistant Commissioner Carty when he held an emergency conference of senior officers and detectives in the city last Sunday in the aftermath of the murder of Declan Griffin.

Griffin, a career criminal with a history of drug trafficking as well as being a Garda informant, was known to be the target of a rival drugs gang based in Ronanstown in west Dublin. He had been wearing a bulletproof vest every day for the past three months and was carrying a handgun at the time of his death.

His killers have links to organised crime in Limerick and to elements of the Continuity IRA which in the past two years has become heavily involved in drug dealing in Limerick and in west Dublin. Griffin was set up by members of a travelling family also involved with the CIRA and organised criminals in Dublin. He was called to a meeting in the Horse and Jockey pub in Inchicore by a man he took to be an ally. As they were talking at the bar, another man walked in and shot him in the neck.

Gardai investigating the case have strong suspicions about who carried out the killing and why Griffin was killed. But by yesterday they had still not gained any substantial evidence. None of the 30 other patrons in the bar was able to give a detailed description of the gunman.

The killing fits a pattern of "gangland" killings in Dublin over the past four years in which the gardai are aware of the motive and the likely killers but are unable to get any witnesses to come forward and give evidence. Out of more than 40 such murders since 1998, a successful prosecution has been brought in only one instance.

Assistant Commissioner Carty told his senior officers that he wants this situation to be addressed and that extra resources will be allocated to fighting organised crime. Detectives said they were heartened by the Assistant Commissioner's promise that the strict overtime cuts imposed last year will be relaxed in murder cases, giving detectives more time to pursue investigations. One senior officer pointed to a case where only two officers have been left in charge of six gangland murders as well as dealing with almost daily outbreaks of violence between gangs. While they have been able to bring drugs and firearms charges against some of the main figures involved in gang violence, they report that there is almost no likelihood of solving any of the murders on their files.

A major concern for detectives is the fact that the victims in the four latest gangland killings were Garda informants. Niall Mulvihill, 57, who was shot dead at Spencer Dock on January 25, had given gardai important information about the theft of the Beit paintings, leading to the recovery of the paintings at the end of last year. Raymond Salinger, 40, who was shot dead in a pub in the Liberties on February 27 last, had been a garda informant and had to leave Dublin. He had only returned to Dublin in the past year. And Chas Merriman, 28, who was shot dead in Ballymun on February 28, is also believed to have given gardai information about other drug dealers.

It is understood that the latest increase in gang killings in Dublin is related to the fact that gardai have had one of their most successful periods of drugs seizures ever, with major finds coming almost every week. According to detective sources, the heads of the criminal gangs are issuing orders for suspected informants to be shot and the killings are being carried out by professional killers. Some of these killers are former IRA figures now hiring out their services to criminal gangs.

Despite the apparent record increase in crime and rise in gangland violence, the Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne was in an optimistic mood in presenting the 2002 crime statistics to the Minister for Justice.

The statistics as presented showed major increases across the spectrum of serious crime. Homicide increased from 74 in 2001 to 114 in 2002; sexual offences increased from 1,939 to 3,147; serious assaults increased from 3,802 in 2001 to 5,688; drug offences increased from 2,380 to 2,934; arson increased from 1,407 to 1,493; larceny increased from 45,652 to 58,100; burglary rose from 24,015 to 25,511; robbery from 2,880 to 2,945; fraud was up from 3,492 to 4,270 and "other" serious offences rose from 992 to 1,638.

In a letter accompanying the figures, Commissioner Byrne stated: "I am pleased to advise you that preliminary analysis of statistics for the beginning of 2003 indicates that the increases in headline offences over the past two years may have peaked. Thus far the figures show a small but significant decrease when compared to the same period in 2002. In particular it would appear that the number of assaults and robbery incidents may be on the decrease."

However, the statistics supplied by the Garda Commissioner on April 2 continued the practice introduced in 2000 of excluding the major category of criminal damage from the category of serious crime. It has never been fully explained why this category was removed as criminal damage is still an offence, like the other 'headline' crimes, for which a person can stand trial before a jury.

The removal of the criminal offence category in 2000 meant that the Garda Crime Report for that year had a headline crime statistic of 73,276, which was claimed at the time as the lowest crime rate in two decades. However, it then emerged that the 2000 headline crime figures excluded 14,989 offences of criminal damage which would have brought the total to 88,253 - a sharp rise in indictable or headline crime from the 1999 total of 81,274.

Similarly the figures for 2001 claimed a headline crime level of 86,633, again excluding criminal damage. If the criminal damage category (24,393 offences recorded) was included, this would have brought the figure for 2001 up to 111,026 - the highest figure in the history of the State. The latest figures have a headline crime category of 105,840, again without the criminal damage category. The Commissioner's report to the Minister for 2002 does not contain any details of the level of criminal damage. However, garda sources have indicated that the category rose again from the 2001 figure of 24,393. If it were included this could give a total of maybe 130,000 serious crimes, by far the highest figure ever recorded and a jump of between 50 and 60 per cent on 1999/2000 levels.

Sunday, 9 February 2003

As the price of cocaine falls, the number of users skyrockets

Sunday February 09 2003
The drug cartels of Columbia are flooding Ireland with cocaine,the new drug of choice, writes Jimmy Guerin

ON the street and in the pubs and clubs where cocaine is now the drug of choice for thousands, even the slang has changed to fit the times. Once an exclusive 'hit' was described affectionately by its upper-income devotees as Charlie, but today the argot has shifted.

Coke is simply a 'wrap', a word shorn of any glamour, describing merely the package in which the drug is sold.

Today Ireland possesses the dubious distinction of being the third largest consumer of cocaine inEurope.

The drug is more widely available than ever before and a network of distributors preys on cities, towns and even villages around the country.

Coke is no longer an elitist drug. It is not that people have more money, rather that usage has grown because the price has dropped. A deal or wrap can be bought for as little as €40. There are now many more people involved in the distribution of cocaine and it is no longer only controlled by the organised criminals who had established contacts, mostly in Amsterdam in the past.

In an attempt to test cocaine's new availability, I visited one of Dublin's most exclusive night spots, with another reporter from this newspaper. I had been told there were dealers working in the club, where many visiting celebrities mix with the city's socialites.

We arrived at 11.20pm on Thursday last and were told that the club would not be open until 11.30pm as a private function was being held there. The polite and friendly staff told us to return at 11.30pm or any time after that.

On returning to the club, however, we were refused admission despite being on the guest list and told it was a strictly members night. It was obvious, and later confirmed, that they knew who we were, and obviously suspected that we were chasing a story.

I was aware of others attending that night, and was able to make contact by phone. Shortly after 2.30am the information came back. I received a call confirming that my contact had purchased coke from a person known as a dealer in the club.

The fact of the deal was not a surprise to me. What did surprise me was that it had taken so long to acquire the drug, and that it was so expensive. My contact was charged €100 for cocaine which is probably less than 30 per cent pure.

This is just one of many venues around the city where drugs like cocaine can be purchased. Gardai now accept that coke is one of the most widely used drugs in Ireland.

The reasons for the drug's proliferation are not hard to find. Increased prosperity has played its part, but a new arrival in Ireland's drug underworld has perhaps brought the most significant shift.

In the last two years, drug cartels from Colombia have set up gangs in France and Spain with a view to supplying the European market directly. Recent crackdowns in America have led the Colombians to seek new areas to sell cocaine. It is the Colombians who have flooded the European market, bringing the price of cocaine crashing.

Ireland was soon identified as a lucrative market by the Europe-based Colombian gangs.

Traffickers came to Dublin to identify people to act as their distributors and pushers. They befriended people who were both users and petty criminals and soon these were acting as the cartels' Irish distributors.

They would only be supplied with small quantities, normally a few kilos a time.

These pushers would cut and pack their own drugs and then sell directly to users. Today the new distributors are concentrating on night-clubs and pubs to sell their drugs. In some cases a dealer looks after the doormen at a venue, and in return is freely allowed to sell cocaine to customers.

If someone else tries to sell at these premises the doormen remove them, using the drug-dealing as an excuse to bar the interloper. In effect, dealers have established a kind of franchise, and for this they pay a fee.

They can easily afford it. The pushers are making up to €25,000 per week and are mostly unknown to the Gardai. They operate in just one or two clubs and have their own customer base. Their activity is not large enough that it would come to the attention of the drug squad.

The Colombians, who have now established about 60 such distributors in Ireland, have succeeded in cutting out the middleman, and make millions each year from their dealings in this country. Ireland has become one of the most profitable locations for them in Europe.

Their supply chain, too, has become increasingly sophisticated. Cartel members have recruited a number of drug couriers, and have been known to approach innocent holidaymakers abroad and offer them up to €1,000 to carry back a few kilos.

This has proved hugely successful for the drug suppliers, and has ensured more and more cocaine is getting through. They have designed special cloths in which they wrap the cocaine. Under airport X-ray examination the packages are impossible to distinguish from ordinary towels.

The use of people who are on holidays allows for easier passage, because tourists are not often targeted by customs officers. Usually, too, people return from holiday in the early hours when there are few, if any, customs men present at the airports.

Many recent gangland killings can be attributed to the drug business. Young thugs are now fighting for dominance in an ever-growing market, and the drug distributors are happy to supply them with powerful weapons in an effort to protect their share of the market.

However, this fighting is mostly related to street trading.

Cocaine has now replaced a large amount of the heroin which was being dealt on the streets of Dublin.

Once seen as an exotic sideline in Ireland's fight against drugs, the effects of the cocaine explosion are now a significant worry.

Cocaine, freely available and disturbingly cheap, is beginning to be used to make the highly addictive drug crack. It is an alarming development with potentially devastating consequences.

Where this has happened in other countries, there has been a huge increase in violent crime.

The arrival of crack-cocaine in Ireland, gardai admit, could threaten to become one of the most catastrophic drug problems the country has ever faced.

Sunday, 5 January 2003

Up to 40 gang murders still unsolved


Sunday January 05 2003
Garda frustration growing over lack of success in securing the conviction of organised crime figures

IRELAND'S organised crime gangs are once more gaining in strength as the gardai are having less and less success in securing convictions for gangland killings.

At least 40 gang-related murders over the last five years mostly in Dublin but with increasing numbers in Limerick are unsolved. And senior gardai admit privately that there is little prospect of the killers being brought to justice.

In the past few months, a number of key, highly-experienced detectives have taken early retirement and their remaining associates say there is spreading disillusionment in the detective ranks.

In Dublin, at least 35 gangland murders remain unsolved since 1997. In one gangland feud alone in the Drimnagh area five unsolved murders and several attempted murders remain on the books.

Murder charges have been brought in only three gangland killings during this period in the city. The rate of gangland killings dropped after the murder of Veronica Guerin but has been climbing steadily since.

Officially all these murder files are still under investigation but detectives say only token attention is being paid to most of the cases. Gardai now depend on catching the perpetrators for less serious offences such as possession of drugs or firearms. And senior officers admit the problem of violent organised crime has become established in Limerick and is also beginning to make its effects felt in Cork.

Limerick is seen as a particularly serious problem. A Moyross-based gang with a record of savage violence is believed responsible for the murders of both a Co Clare car dealer shot dead on New Year's Eve and the murder of nightclub doorman Brian Fitzgerald in November.

The same gang is notorious for its use of violence in armed robberies. It was responsible for murdering an elderly farmer, Patrick "Paud" Skehan, 68, who was tied upside down at his isolated home in Co Clare in April 1998 and left to die.

The gang burst into the home of Sean Poland, 39, before 11pm on New Year's Eve. They shot him dead at the front door and then tied up his partner, forcing her to tell them where cash was held in the house. The gang spent almost two hours in the house, stepping over Mr Poland's prostrate body in the hallway.

The gang has a history of violent robbery going back for almost a generation. They are believed responsible for dozens of robberies, particularly of houses belonging to elderly people in isolated areas of the southwest. In recent years, the gang has teamed up with another gang based in west Co Clare which has been heavily involved in drug smuggling. The Limerick gang has been helping the Clare drug smugglers move their drugs into Limerick city. It is believed they killed father-of-two Brian Fitzgerald, 34, after he refused them permission to sell drugs in Doc's Nightclub where he worked. The gang called to his home in Limerick on the night of November 28 and shot him dead because he had made a report to gardai about being intimidated. Mr Fitzgerald had withdrawn the statement but was still assassinated.

Senior gardai say Limerick now has a number of heavily-armed gangs mainly involved in the drugs trade.

The Co Clare drug gang has been behind some of the biggest drug-smuggling operations in the State in the past 15 years. This gang has links to major drug smugglers based in the Border area and has directly smuggled cannabis and other drugs from ships.

Gardai say that organised gangs have become smarter about not leaving forensic evidence at the scenes of murders. They are also well-versed in making allegations of abuse of their human rights if gardai try to subject them to covert or overt surveillance. There are also increasing examples of witnesses being intimidated and even attacked.

Gardai can no longer rely on admissions made under interrogation as a way of gaining convictions. After a series of controversies over concocted statement evidence, admissions will only be accepted in court if interrogators use videotape. Gardai say it is almost impossible to gain admissions from suspects in front of video cameras.

The unsolved gang murders in recent years include the following:

PJ 'Psycho' Judge, 41, was shot dead by the IRA outside the Royal Oak pub in Finglas on December 8, 1996. No one has been charged.

Timothy Rattigan, 39, Drimnagh, was shot dead at a Thomas St bookmakers in June 1997. No one has been charged.

Tony 'Chester' Beatty, 39, one of Ireland's biggest ecstasy and cannabis dealers, was shot dead in a Dublin city centre pub in December 1997 in front of his teenage daughter. Several people were arrested but none charged with his murder.

Eamon O'Reilly, 22, a member of a Finglas gang, was shot dead in January 1998. One man was acquitted in June 2001 of his murder.

Thomas Lockard, 34, from Belfast, living in Dublin, was bound, tortured and stabbed to death near the border in Co Louth on April 27, 1998. There have been no charges.

Sinead Kelly, 21, from Santry, was stabbed to death over a heroin debt as she worked as a prostitute on the banks of the Grand Canal near Baggot Street, Dublin, on June 21, 1998. A number of files have been sent to the DPP but no one has been charged.

Gerard Moran, 35, from Rory O'Connor House, Hardwicke Street, in north central Dublin, was shot dead by the IRA while delivering take-away food in Drumcondra on November 21, 1998. No one has been charged.

John Dillon, 53, a minor criminal, was shot dead at his home in Glenties Park, Finglas, Dublin, on January 7, 1999. No one has been charged.

Pascal Boland, 43, of Ashcroft Court, Mulhuddart, was shot seven times at his house on January 27, 1999. A rival drug gang was responsible. No charges were brought.

Thomas Reilly, 35, was shot in the chest as he arrived for work at Premier Dairies in April 1999. No charges have been brought.

Kevin Fennell, 23, was shot dead in the living room of his home in Drumcairn Park, Tallaght, on June 27, 1999 by the IRA. No charges have been brought.

Noel Heffernan, 35, from Ballyfermot Road, Dublin, was found dead from head injuries in a shed at Barberstown Lane near Dublin Airport on August 15, 1999. No one has been charged.

Richard McFerran, 53, was shot dead while sitting in his car outside his apartment at Jocelyn Street, Dundalk, on August 15, 1999. There have been no charges to date.

Martin Nolan, 34, Newtown, Tramore was abducted and savagely beaten to death on November 10, 1999. Files were sent to the DPP but there have been no charges.

Joseph Vickers, 43, was beaten to death outside his caravan in Greystones by members of a Co Wicklow drugs gang on December 13, 1999. Files were sent to the DPP but there have been no charges.

Darren Carey, 20, was shot dead and dumped in the Grand Canal at New Year 2000 after a dispute over heroin seized by gardai a month earlier. Patrick Murray, 19, was murdered in the same incident as Carey. Mark Desmond was charged with murder but the charges later withdrawn. Desmond was sentenced to six years' imprisonment last month on firearms charges, threatening witnesses as he was led from the court.

Joseph Foran, 38, from Finglas, was shot dead by the IRA as he sat in a car with his girlfriend outside his house on February 26, 2000. No charges have been brought.

Patrick Neville, 31, Inchicore, was shot dead in April 2000 by the INLA in retaliation for the killing of Patrick Campbell, 22, during a gang fight in Ballymount the previous October. Files have been sent to the DPP but no charges brought.

Thomas Byrne, 41, Sheriff Street, Dublin was shot dead outside O'Neill's pub in Ballybough by a senior IRA man in Dublin on April 30, 2000. No one has been charged.

Nicholas 'Mad Nicky' O'Hare, 35, formerly from Belfast, was shot dead in Dundalk on August 19, 2000. The IRA is believed responsible. No charges have been brought.

Francis Fitzgerald, 26, Cabra was shot at Annamoe Terrace, Cabra on November 13, 2000. His uncle Gerald Fitzgerald was injured in another shooting 10 days earlier. No one has been charged.

Ciaran Smyth, 39, Ravensdale, Dundalk, was tortured and shot dead on February 9, 2001. His body was found in a cattle pen near the Co Meath village of Curragha. No charges have been brought.

Seamus 'Shavo' Hogan, 48, a veteran Dublin criminal, was shot dead as he emerged from a social club in Crumlin on July 14, 2001. It is believed the IRA was responsible. No one has been charged.

Declan Gavin, 20, Mourne Road, Drimnagh was stabbed to death outside Crumlin Shopping Centre on August 25, 2001 as part of a feud between drug dealers. No one has been charged.

Gerard 'Concrete' Fitzgerald, 48, father-of-eight and well-known petty criminal, uncle of Francis Fitzgerald, was shot while standing at street corner in Ballymun on November 21, 2001. No one has been charged.

Simon Doyle, 22, was shot dead at St Mark's Avenue, Ronanstown on December 12, 2001 by young members of a rival drug gang. No one has been charged.

The body of Patrick Lawlor, 17, was recovered from a shallow grave at Grand Canal on January 25, 2002. He was abducted and murdered by a Neilstown drug dealer who has been responsible for at least two other murders. This man is in prison on drugs charges but no one has been charged with Lawlor's or any of his other victims' murders.

David McGreevey, 23, was shot dead in Tallaght on February 1 by the same gang believed responsible for killing Patrick Lawlor. No charges have been brought.

The body of Niall Hanlon, 22, was recovered from a secret grave in St Kevin's College, Sundrive Road on February 11 last. He was another victim of the vicious feud in and around Drimnagh between drug dealers. No charges have arisen.

Maurice 'Bo Bo' Ward, 56, was shot dead at Greenmount Avenue, Ronanstown on April 28, by a young drug dealer in retaliation for the murder of Simon Doyle the previous December. No charges have been brought.

Derek Lodge, 26, was shot dead at Kilworth Road, Drimnagh, another victim of the Drimnagh drug feud. No charges have been brought.

INLA man Douglas McManus, 35, was stabbed to death in Fatima Mansions on June 18, the third man to die as a result of the feud started in 1999. Files have been sent to the DPP but no charges have been brought.

Joseph Rattigan, 18, Drimnagh, was shot in head on July 18 in Crumlin another victim of the Drimnagh feud. No one has been charged.

Stephen Byrne, 39, Inchicore, was found shot dead in the Dublin Mountains on November 25. An IRA assassin, he was lured to his death by his associates. No one has been charged.