Dark side of Ireland's economic boom is the growth of high-octane gangsterism
Angelique Chrisafis in Dublin
The Guardian, Thursday 20 October 2005
Mark Glennon knew what was coming. He slept in a bullet-proof vest and his west Dublin council house was a fortress of bullet-proof glass, CCTV cameras and reinforced doors. To maintain his edge, and his trigger finger, he fuelled himself with cocaine.
But last month Glennon, 32, became the latest in a long line of drug dealers with reputations for extreme violence to be shot dead in Ireland's gangland wars. He was gunned down in broad daylight outside his home in Blanchardstown, Ireland's silicon valley, an area of conspicuous wealth.
Nearly 10 years after the crime reporter Veronica Guerin was shot dead for pursuing Dublin's drug barons, Ireland's criminal gangs are more dangerous and unpredictable than ever, according to residents on their estates. They are heavily armed with automatic weapons from eastern Europe. They are high on their own cocaine supply and turning over ever-increasing profits from drugs and spectacular armed robberies - some making in six months what the godfathers of Guerin's time made in two years.
Thirteen men have been shot dead in gangland-style killings this year, 11 in Dublin alone. Politicians say people are so inured to the turf wars that it now merits little attention when the bullet-riddled corpse of a drug dealer is discovered.
The government, which had prematurely declared last year that the fight against gangs was nearly won, is now cracking down, and police are seizing weapons - 500 this year - from sawn-off shotguns to M16 rifles and armour-piercing bullets. Amid the clamour for police to be seen to be addressing Ireland's armed robberies, two post office raiders, one an armed drug dealer and another unarmed man, were gunned down by undercover police in an ambush in May.
Amnesty International is demanding an independent inquiry and the men's families are planning a case for the European court of human rights alleging excessive force. Politicians and commentators are warning of the dangers of civilians getting caught in the crossfire.
The new generation of Irish druglords, known as the "mini-godfathers" or the "Celtic tiger cubs", are not the character criminals of the desperate days of 1980s Ireland, men like "the general", Martin Cahill. Unlike the abstemious Cahill, who carried out one of the world's biggest art heists, the new breed are described by those who live among them as "cocaine androids", whose personalities seem to have been formed by the drug they use and peddle.
Their lives are fast and short, their violence is said to be almost psychopathic. Some who lost kidneys in shoot-outs continued to wage war on their rivals unworried by their colostomy bags, pumping themselves with steroids to compensate for ill health.
Ireland has the third highest cocaine use in Europe. Seizures of the drug have gone up 800% in the last five years. "People get shot and we don't even hear about it. It just becomes commonplace - drug-related and part of a feud," said one community worker on Blanchardstown's sprawling estates, driving past landmarks of recent feuding. There are flowers at a tree where a young man bled to death after he was shot in the legs. At a parade of shops, another group of men were lined up and shot for stepping out of line. The local hospital is becoming expert at gunshot wounds - admissions have gone up fourfold in four years.
If this sounds ominously like Belfast, but in a wealthier setting, it is because the new gangsters have begun to ape paramilitary methods of intimidating their own communities. Joan Burton, Labour MP for Blanchardstown, said: "Dublin is seeing a mixture of guns and paramilitary culture."
Some gangsters even claim to be in the IRA - boasts sometimes not without credibility as the IRA has long "licensed" criminals in Dublin, taking a cut of the action in return for protection. "There is a quasi-social and political control associated with thuggery and crime," Ms Burton added. "There is harassment and intimidation across the estates."
There is a hard core of 15 to 30 gangs, and some are branching out into multimillion euro cash-in-transit robberies. Irish people, once among the poorest in Europe, are now second richest in the world, according to the United Nations; with so much money sloshing around, it seemed inevitable that an high-octane criminal culture would develop. But although the tiger brought jobs, Ireland now has one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world.
Not far from where Mark Glennon was shot is the council house that once belonged to John Gilligan, head of the gang responsible for shooting Guerin in 1996. He was acquitted of ordering her murder, but is serving a 20-year term after being convicted of running the biggest drugs empire Ireland had known.
Glennon and his brother Andrew, known as "Madster", were the second wave of drug dealers on the local patch. Once part of the notorious "Westies" gang, which dominated the area by torturing its rivals, the Glennons broke off and challenged their former bosses. They were suspects in the 2003 murder of a leading "Westie". But the Glennons did not last long. Andrew was killed five months before his brother, in April, when a rival gang surrounded his car and riddled him with bullets. But the Glennons had associates prepared to avenge them, and locals fear the feud is not over.
Blanchardstown is in no way unique. Drug gang wars have spread across the city - and into Europe. Last month a Cork drug smuggler's corpse was found in the freezer of an apartment in the Algarve in Portugal. Michael "Danzer" Ahern's head was said to have been severed as proof of his death.
Last year the "Westies" leaders, Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg, went missing from a villa near Alicante in Spain. They are presumed dead, perhaps killed in a row over drug importation.
But on their old turf some residents fear that they staged their own disappearance and could return. "Their families haven't seemed to be in mourning," said one local man. Others feel that, like Mark Glennon, they would be unable to stay away, whatever the risk.