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