By JIM CUSACK
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.
- JIM CUSACK