Sunday, 10 July 2005

The new wave of gun crime

Sunday Tribune

Six months into 2005, the number of ganglandstyle assassinations has already surpassed the total for 2004, with the dramatic increase being blamed on the availability of stolen guns
John Burke and Eoghan Rice
THE 43-year-old sat in the Dublin city centre pub with a pint glass in his hand. It was 9pm on 3 April. A man walked up and fired several shots into his head and body. The killer then calmly walked out of the Green Lizard bar, leaving Jimmy Curran slumped dead in his seat.

Just over a week later, Dubliner Joe Rafferty was getting into his van outside his Clonsilla home. It was 9am in the morning. A lone gunman walked up to the 25-year-old courier and fired two shots.

The victim started to run but, heavily wounded, he fell dead on the street.

Two days later, minor drugdealer Terry Dunleavy was sitting in a car outside the Croke Villas flats on Sackville Street, Dublin at 10pm. A lone gunman walked up to the car. He fired five shots into the 26-yearold's head, inflicting fatal wounds.

Three weeks later, four more young men were dead.

Three were from Dublin and one victim, who was shot down in front of his girlfriend and new-born baby, was from Sligo.

The number of violent shootings had returned to a level not seen since 2003, when gun crime arising out of a series of drug-gang feuds dominated headlines on an almost weekly basis.

But senior garda sources have told the Sunday Tribune that the vast majority of gun killings this year so far do not relate to gang warfare. More worrying, minor disputes and arguments are increasingly being settled in cold blood at an unprecedented rate . . . with volatile young criminals now having almost unlimited access to lethal firearms.

New figures on homicide and violent death, compiled by this newspaper, show that the number of gangland-style assassinations carried out in the first six months of this year has already surpassed the total number of similar murders in all of 2004.

To date, eight young men have been shot dead in gangland-style hits since the start of the year, compared to six such slayings in the previous 12 months.

Gardai are concerned that the levels of fatal shootings could return to the high of two years ago, when 17 people were murdered in gang conflicts in Limerick and Dublin.

Increasing evidence is emerging to convince gardai that three-quarters of the shootings so far this year have been related to personal disputes rather than any clash between rival drug factions.

Gardai are struggling to get to grips with an increasing trend among criminals, including those with minor convictions who are not well-known to detectives, which is to settle personal scores with everavailable firearms. One senior Dublin-based garda described the trend as "deeply worrying".

The dramatic increase in gun-related murders is in close correlation with the availability of stolen firearms and highperformance handguns.

Of the 1,330 firearms stolen from private homes and gun dealerships in the two year period up to 2004, 961 of these were shotguns. These can be easily adapted by sawing the barrels in half. Sawn-off shotguns are a favoured weapon among criminals. Shotgun ammunition, which comprises a plastic cartridge filled with lead balls, is difficult to match to a particular weapon by ballistic examination, unlike bullets which are fired from a pistol.

High-performance handguns are also increasingly available among the criminal fraternity, especially in Dublin, according to garda sources.

Many of these weapons are believed to have originated in eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia and are included among drug shipments organised for transit to Ireland by expatriated Irish criminals in Holland and Spain.

Justice minister Michael McDowell and garda commissioner Noel Conroy have stated that curbing gun crime is among their chief priorities. Included in the Criminal Justice Bill is a number of provisions to reduce gun crime, which increased by 38% last year. Among the measures are mandatory sentences for firearms offences and making it a specific offence to adapt a firearm, such as sawing the barrels in half.

The total number of killings for the first six months of this year is marginally up on the numbers violently slain over the same period last year. In the first six months of 2004, 23 people were shot, stabbed or beaten to death.

In cases where gardai have disclosed the cause of death, eight victims were shot dead to date this year, a further seven were beaten to death and six more were victims of fatal stabbings.

Twelve of the 25 victims of violent deaths were killed in Dublin while two people were killed in Cork, Clare and Waterford each. There were further single incidents of violent death in Donegal, Louth, Kerry, Westmeath, Wexford, Sligo and Meath.

Three of the 25 victims so far this year were women.

Irene White, a 43-year-old mother of three from Dundalk, was stabbed to death in her home on 6 April. Gardai said that it is likely that the killer was carrying the knife used to inflict the fatal stab wounds. There was no sign of a break-in and robbery does not appear to have been the motive. The victim was found lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen of her home by her elderly mother, Maureen McBride, 70.

Galway art student Emer O'Loughlin, 23, was found dead in the burnt-out caravan she lived in, near Tubber in Co Clare. A combat-style knife was recovered nearby. It is understood that investigating gardai are following a definite line of inquiry in the case. It is believed that the chief suspect has since attempted to fake his own suicide in a bid to flee the jurisdiction.

A man has been charged in relation to the fatal stabbing of 65-year-old Mary Hannon, who was found dead at her Inchicore home in Dublin on 21 April.

One of the most gruesome killings of the year so far was the slaying of Ennis taxi driver Liam Moloney on 12 February. Moloney's throat was slashed. Local superintendent John Kerin described the killing as "absolutely horrific".

A man has been charged in relation to the death.

Gardai are still attempting to determine the origin of the body of a black male which was recovered from the Royal Canal on 30 March. The body was dismembered with limbs detached from the torso. The victim's head was not recovered. The body has not been identified as matching any of the immigration databases in Ireland or the UK. One line of inquiry was that it may have been the estranged husband of Paiche Onyemachi, the daughter of the Malawian attorney general who was killed and beheaded, and her body dumped at a Kilkenny riverbank, in 2004.

Three non-nationals were victims of violent deaths this year to date. Thirty-six-yearold Polish man Dariusz Piotr Staszewski was found dead with head injuries on 28 January. He had been in Ireland for a few weeks and was staying with friends in a cottage in Cork.

A man has been charged in relation to the death of Lithuanian Robert Stravinshas who died on 23 May. The dead man had been living in Wexford for some time.

A man was also charged, last week, in relation to the stabbing of 23-year-old Chinese man, Zhi Song, who was killed in his Rialto, Dublin, home on 30 June, after reportedly interrupting a burglar.

Song had been living and working, as a kitchen porter, in Dublin for the past two and a half years.


THE number of children who have been violently killed to date this year is of"cially in doubt, as gardai have not recorded the violent drowning of Wexford sisters Abby and Mikahla Grace among those killed.

Abby, 3, and Mikahla Grace, 4, were drowned by their mother Sharon at Kaat's Strand, Wexford, on 17 April. Sharon Grace, 28, later took her own life. The Sunday Tribune understands that the sisters are not included among the 25 victims recorded on the of"cial garda violent death list for the "rst six months of 2005, despite the fact that gardai have recorded similar incidents of homicidesuicide as violent deaths in previous years.

In recent years there have been a number of homicidesuicide incidents . . . where a parent kills their own child or children before subsequently taking their own life.

The of"cial "gure of 25 killings includes one child victim. In one of the most high-pro"le garda investigations in recent times, Cork IT student Wayne O'Donoghue was charged in relation to the death of 12-year-old Robert Holohan, from Midleton, who disappeared from near his home on 4 January and was later found dead.

Similar incidents of homicide-suicide which have been of"cially recorded as violent death include the death of Miriam Burke, 9, when her father Michael Burke, an unemployed "sherman from Baldoyle in Dublin, drove himself and his daughter off the pier at Howth harbour, in December 2000.

Also recorded was the September 2000 drowning by Stephen Byrne of his sons Alan, 10, and Shane, 6.

Byrne also fatally stabbed his wife, Maeve.

There is no indication, however, that gardai show any bias in how the death is recorded, based on the gender of the parent. Both the June 2001 drowning of eight-year-old Karl Murphy by his mother, Ruth, and the March 1999 killings of Jennifer, 8, and Louisa Palmer, 6, by their mother Catherine, 37, who also killed herself by driving the family car into the sea at Tarrea Pier in Galway, were of"cially recorded on the garda list.
July 10, 2005