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 gardaí 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 gardaí 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
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.