Sunday, 8 May 2005

Rash of gangland hits set to make it bloodiest year yet

Sunday May 08 2005
GANGLAND killings, drug trafficking and armed robberies have reached levels higher than the mid-1990s when the Government was forced to introduce the criminal assets legislation to crack down on organised crime, senior gardai admit.

Seven gangland hits, the latest in broad daylight on Thursday, have taken place since March, making this year the bloodiest since 1995-96. Then, 12 killings took place in an 18-month period prior to the murder of Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin.

All seven killings involve drugs-related gang members and two have taken place in the Taoiseach's own constituency, exposing as false claims by Justice Minister Michael McDowell only two weeks ago that serious crime levels are falling.

Senior gardai admit that despite a number of major successes scored against armed robbery and drugs gangs in the past fortnight, more drugs and more guns are on the streets than ever before. Gardai also admit that despite the official claims that crime is falling, massive amounts of drugs are still coming into the country.

Commenting on a €1.5m heroin seizure in Dublin last week, one senior garda said that it was "only a shovel out of a lorry-load of sand". The biggest heroin dealing gang in the country is now believed to be headed by a former Provisional IRA figure who is on the run this weekend after gardai cracked part of his distribution operation.

The man, in his late 30s, is from Ballyfermot but recently moved to the Liffey Valley area. He runs an extensive gang which employs dozens of people, including elderly men and women, to launder the vast amounts of cash being generated by the business.

With five murders in April alone, the State is experiencing its worst ever rash of gangland murders. Gardai say none of the killings are related and all have resulted from inter-gang rivalries and personal feuds. A senior garda used the term "cluster effect" when describing the recent outbreak of killings.

Starting with the murder of John Roche on March 9 in Kilmainham, Dublin, seven murders have taken place culminating with Thursday morning's killing of Mark Byrne. Byrne was shot dead minutes after he left Mountjoy Prison on a temporary pass. He was killed as part of a feud involving former drug trafficking associates which turned violent.

The first in the latest spate of gangland killings was that of John Roche, 25, from Crumlin. Roche's murder was part of a feud that started five years ago when gardai broke up a cocaine-dealing ring in a raid on a Dublin hotel where two teenagers were "cutting" cocaine in a bedroom. The Crumlin drugs gang split and six murders have resulted from this feud alone.

Of the other murders this year, two have involved figures associated with the Provisional IRA who have become centrally involved in organised crime. Courier Joseph Rafferty, 28, who was shot dead outside his apartment in Clonee, was murdered because of a dispute with an IRA-associated family in the north inner city which broke out at Christmas.

The other broad daylight murder - of Hughie McGinley, 26, in Sligo on April 28 - was a result of inter-gang rivalry between two travelling families who are said to be making millions from drug dealing in the west and north west.

The rash of gangland murders has revealed the distance between fact and reality in claims last month by the Minister for Justice that serious crime is falling. Mr McDowell was comparing statistics of "headline crime" for the first quarter of this year and the first quarter of last year which, on paper, show a seven per cent drop.

However, compared with statistics from five years ago, it is evident that serious crime is still climbing with drug crime and armed robbery at levels the same or higher than the mid-1990s.

The Minister is introducing mandatory imprisonment for possession of firearms as part of the Criminal Justice Bill. At present judges have discretion as to whether or not a person found in possession of a gun can receive a sentence of imprisonment or a suspended sentence.

One senior garda told the Sunday Independent that the force is facing a crisis in the successful prosecution of crimes like robbery and burglary. Successful prosecutions are running at levels as low as three to seven per cent in these categories. Despite this, the Garda Siochana claims official "detection rates" of over 40 per cent. The official detection rates are "basically fictitious", one senior garda said.

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