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.