Tuesday, 23 November 2004

Gangland shooting terrorises Dublin suburb

When a local criminal was found dead, residents in Blanchardstown thought it would end the fear on their streets ... but they were wrong
Angelique Chrisafis, Ireland correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 November 2004 00.03 GMT
It is known as Ireland's silicon valley, the heartland of a computer industry that fuelled the Celtic Tiger, bringing vast shopping centres and apartment blocks for yuppies. But north-west Dublin's violent underbelly is threatening to erupt after a weekend of gangland violence on its working-class estates saw one man shot dead in front of his baby and two men treated in hospital after drive-by shootings.
When one of Ireland's most notorious young criminals, a man with one kidney and a chronic cocaine habit, was found dead in a Dublin prison cell 10 days ago, it appeared to spark a wave of violence.
Armed police patrols were stepped up yesterday in an attempt to target 12 local gangland figures and avert further bloodshed in the run-up to Christmas.
Blanchardstown is a new town of 70,000 which has grown fast and nudges up against the northern Dublin borough of Finglas. Both have a brutal gangland history.
John Gilligan - acquittted of ordering the murder of the journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996 - comes from a local estate. He is serving 28 years for drugs offences.
The Westies, one of the most dangerous of Dublin's organised crime gangs, dominated the local heroin trade in the 90s and still operate. But in an area where some children drop out of school at 11, the gangsters are becoming younger and better armed, with sawn-off shotguns sometimes handed to teenagers. One Dublin newspaper described the new gangs as "mini-armies".
One of the leading younger hard men was a figure worthy of one of Ireland's best gangster biopics. Declan Curran was a local drug addict and teenage car thief. By 24, he was linked to violent bank robberies, assaults, drive-by shootings and gangland executions.
He had worn a colostomy bag since 19 when he was shot in the back and lost a kidney fleeing a gunman during a feud. But he refused to let it hold him back. He took steroids to pump himself up and was addicted to cocaine.
As his mood swung violently, he seemed to display an almost suicidal recklessness. He once drove at 100mph on the wrong side of the road while high on drugs and alcohol to avoid a police car he later crashed into. A murder trial against him collapsed last year after the suspected intimidation of a key witness, his ex-girlfriend. Despite his crimes, he did not make much money and still lived with his family, where police once arrested him wearing a bullet-proof vest in bed.
When Curran was recently found dead in a prison cell in Dublin, residents in Blanchardstown and Finglas thought it would end the fear on their streets. But they were wrong.
Curran had been remanded in Cloverhill prison after he botched an armed raid on a Dublin bank. Two days later, his body was found by two cellmates who had returned from Sunday mass. The post mortem examination was inconclusive and the results of toxicology tests are awaited.
Almost as if to say he was gone but not forgotten, hours after Curran's death, some of his associates attacked the house of a family with whom he had been engaged in a feud, shooting and injuring one man.
This weekend, the violence worsened. In the early hours of Sunday, Paul Cunningham, 23, was asleep in an upstairs room in a house in Blanchardstown with his girlfriend and their 18-month-old baby. Two men in balaclavas and gloves burst in and shot him dead. A police inspector yesterday called it "a horrendous killing", the latest in a series of incidents causing "serious concern".
Cunningham was the third son in his family of eight to meet a violent death. He had his own underworld connections and 20 previous convictions, including firearms offences. Police said they were not ruling out the possibility of a revenge killing against Curran's side.
Local residents said yesterday they were afraid. Joan Burton, the Labour MP for Dublin West, criticised the lack of community police. "Of course, I am worried this is going to escalate, everybody is," she said.
"A lot families here have been bereaved for Christmas. Already this month we had the fatal stabbing in a bar of a man who had no connection to crime. People are fearful, particularly the innocent people who could get caught up in this."

Sunday, 21 November 2004

First of the gang to die

Sunday Tribune

No-one save closest family will mourn the passing of Declan Curran, a trigger-happy thug with little regard for human life
John Burke and Eoghan Rice
WHEN the heavily armed garda unit burst open Declan Curran's bedroom door they found him lying in his bed wearing a bullet-proof jacket.

Curran was expecting trouble that November day in 2003, but not necessarily from the gardai. Just 23 years of age at the time of his arrest, the Dubliner had already carved out a name for himself as an armed robber, a violently unstable cocaine addict, a hater of gardai and killer.

He was a man with enemies.

Gardai last week found it difficult to mourn the passing of a young man who had ruled his own personal fiefdom around his native Cardiffsbridge Avenue in Finglas with a frightening measure of wickedness and efficiency.

Toxicology reports are still awaited to determine why the 24-year-old died in his cell in Cloverhill prison last weekend, post mortem results having proved inconclusive. But his death, just two days after being arrested for an attempted robbery on a TSB branch in Sutton, came too late for some.

Willie O'Regan (33) had the misfortune of dating Curran's ex-girlfriend. Bitterly jealous, Curran challenged him to a fist fight, but lost. Without a gun he wasn't much of a fighter. Revenge was swift. A fortnight later, on 10 June 2003, two gunmen kicked in the door to O'Regan's flat on the New Cabra Road . . . amputating his right hand at the wrist with one of the seven shots fired after surprising the victim as he sat watching television in his flat.

When gardai arrested Curran for the murder in November 2003, they thought they had got their man. Curran's ex-girlfriend signed two statements stating that he had told her he was going to kill O'Regan, and then showed her the "little gold bullets".

But her garda protection proved inadequate and her home was broken into by two armed men. She denied they threatened her not to give evidence but when the case came before the Central Criminal Court in June of this year, she withdrew her allegations.

Curran was known to gardai in Finglas and Blanchardstown from an early age. At 16 he was a regular cocaine user. By age 18, he was a chronic addict. He was arrested over a dozen times in his late teens for vehicle theft, assault and damage to property.

One retired senior garda recalls Curran as a teenager who had a brazen lack of fear for gardai or anyone else. "He was tough as iron and very determined. There was a stong feeling that he was going to be more difficult to handle than most of his contempories by the time he got older and more established."

But at 19-years-old, Curran was dealt a blow that stalled his criminal exploits, even if it didn't end them. He came into dispute with a wellknown family of criminals in the west Dublin area.

Informed sources suggest the row was about money owed for a gun.

The dispute became bitter, and Curran was ambushed by a gunman outside his home. He was shot in the back as he fled the assassin.

He lost a kidney and spent the remainder of his short life wearing a colostomy bag.

By then, he was known to be a member of one of the toughest gangs of armed robbers in west Dublin, who rivalled the likes of the Westies in ruthlessness. Curran's cocaine habit continued to spiral and he began taking steroids which swelled his physique although he remained in uneven health for the following five years.

A three-year sentence in 2001 for ramming a garda car while under the influence of drink and drugs had done little to discourage his criminality. Before gardai nabbed him at Ashbourne he was doing 100mph on the wrong side of the road.

Garda sources described Curran as untypically brutal, even for a thug, and lacking even a basic regard for human life. But experienced gardai say that his story is most significant insofar as he was one of a new breed of young gangsters who rose to prominence at a time when the availability of illegal guns turned bands of petty thugs into mini-armies.

It was this level of access to weapons . . . mostly sawn-off shotguns . . . which allowed Curran and his criminal crew to carry out an inestimable number of raids on banks and credit unions over the past five years. It allowed them to spread their influence by giving guns to youths as young as 15 to enforce their own bailiwick in west Finglas, terrorising the local community into silence in sight of their transgressions.

In addition to killing O'Regan, Curran was connected to two other murders. On 9 October 2003, the body of father of three Peter Sheridan (27) was found dumped at Scribblestown lane in Finglas. He had been hooded and shot in the head. Information since given to investigating gardai suggests that Curran feared that Sheridan was about to inform on his criminal activities.

Two months earlier, the remains of Victor Murphy of Deanstown Green, Finglas, were found at Dunsink Lane.

Wounds to the lower body indicated to investigating gardai that the victim had been travelling in a car when a gun went off accidentally.

Garda intelligence suggests that Murphy believed he was on his way to "do a job" along with Curran but gardai suspect it was Curran's intention to murder him at a remote location.

Murphy had been friends with Curran's older brother, who had died in a car accident 15 years before. Curran had no regard for sentiment and informed sources said Curran would have felt that Murphy had become a liability.

Those who work in the Finglas community have also found it difficult to mourn Curran's passing. As one community worker told the Sunday Tribune: "He was known as someone who would shoot you for looking at him the wrong way. It didn't matter who you were, Curran wasn't afraid of anyone."

It was initially feared that Curran's departure would start a bloody war. Within 18 hours of his death, Curran's gang attempted to kill a man closely connected to the family who ordered Curran to be shot in 1999. But, long term, his departure is likely to pacify the area rather than lead to increased conflict.

Curran was by no means the only violent and heavily armed thug in west Dublin.

But for many ordinary decent people who lived amid the terror that Curran wrought by armed intimidation, his departure will allow them to enjoy a sense of calm they haven't known for quite some time.
November 21, 2004