THE state's investigation into the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin may remain mired in mystery amid claims that the state is unwittingly protecting the real assassin . . .
but nobody can deny that the parallel garda investigation against one of the state's most dangerous drug gangs has been a major success.
Up to July 1996, John Gilligan, it was claimed during his Special Criminal Court trial, led a group of criminals named as the Greenmount Gang.
For this he received a 28year sentence, despite his acquittal on the charge of ordering and planning Guerin's murder. He was found to be the central controller and main beneficiary of a gang engaged in the widespread importation and sale of cannabis. When gardai raided his property, they recovered a large consignment of cannabis resin and lists indicating the illegal transit of significant amounts of the drug from overseas destinations.
Originally from Dublin city centre, Gilligan formed his gang in the early 1990s and initially developed his criminal enterprise largely away from garda attention, under the cover of his involvement in apparently legitimate business.
He had previously been known to gardai as a petty thief and had been involved in robberies on warehouses and goods. However, he developed a large-scale cannabis-selling enterprise with the assistance of several well-known criminals, including his lieutenant, Brian Meehan.
Gilligan's gang first came to the attention of Veronica Guerin when he was being probed by the garda drugs squad over suspicion that he was becoming one of the dominant forces in the Dublin drugs trade.
Asst Garda Commissioner Tony Hickey told the Special Criminal Court in 2001 that the net profit from drugs sales organised by Gilligan was over 17m. Hickey said that over 20,00kg were imported from Amsterdam through Cork.
Hickey told the court that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that anyone other than Gilligan benefited from the 2,800 per kg he received for the cannabis.
Det Chief Supt Felix McKenna of the CAB also told the court that it had only identified "a small amount" of Gilligan's assets. He said Gilligan had spent over 2m on Jessbrook Equestrian Centre.
McKenna told Gilligan's counsel, Michael O'Higgins SC, that 80% of Jessbrook was now in the name of his wife, Geraldine Gilligan, and that there was a judgement of Â£2.75m registered against the property. There were also houses in Gilligan's two children's names, which were bought for Â£70,000 and Â£77,000. McKenna also estimated that Gilligan lost Â£560,000 in betting.
One senior garda, now retired, who worked on the garda investigation into the Veronica Guerin murder, said that despite what he described as "setbacks" in relation to Gilligan's acquittal and the overturning of Paul Ward's conviction, the investigating team had achieved major success in bringing Gilligan's reign to an end.
"It was a major success.
There has been a lot of critical attention, a lot of it speculation, given to the other aspects of the investigation and that is only natural and fair enough.
"Removing John Gilligan from the scene was a huge success that didn't and still doesn't get the credit deserved to it."
He echoed the comments of Hickey who said after the decision by the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2002 to overturn Paul Ward's murder conviction, that the Garda Siochana always accepts the verdicts of the court. "The point is, no matter what happens at this stage, we set out to dismantle a particular gang and we have done that, " Hickey said at the time.
However, despite the major success achieved in dismantling the Gilligan gang, there is growing evidence to support numerous claims that a younger generation of criminals in the greater Dublin area have stepped in to fill the vaccuum that was left in the wake of the Greenmount gang.
Among the most notable of these have been the Blanchardstown-based Westies gang, headed by criminals Shane Coates and Shephen Sugg, who fled to Spain to avoid garda detection, in addition to a string of minor, but nonetheless dangerous, drugs suppliers working in the Dublin area.
June 12, 2005