Armed police patrol the streets as five murders in a fortnight testify to a ruthless underworld war
Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
The Observer, Sunday 17 December 2006
Christmas shoppers rushing into Dublin's city centre on the busiest week of the year are being greeted at checkpoints by police wearing body armour and carrying Uzi sub-machine guns.
The Garda Emergency Response Unit has been sent on to the streets by Michael McDowell, the Justice Minister, as a visible response to the escalating gangland war that has claimed 24 lives in 2006.
McDowell insists he will maintain an armed presence in Dublin over the festive period. In the last fortnight there have been six gun deaths - five of them related to the city's gangland.
Jimmy Guerin, brother of the murdered reporter Veronica Guerin, recognises the need for police on the streets, but says the reason for the feud is apparent in Dublin's bars and restaurants.
'I had been in this pub at a Christmas party near Phoenix Park. When I went to the toilet I saw three men at the same party snorting cocaine. They were all perfectly respectable young professionals who thought nothing of taking coke for social and recreational use,' he said. 'These are the people who are fuelling the drugs boom and making these gangsters very, very rich. There are only a couple of thousand registered heroin addicts in Dublin; there are hundreds of thousands of social users of drugs, particularly cocaine.'
Guerin contrasts the fortunes of the Dublin drug gangs of 2006 to the handful of dealers that his sister died exposing a decade ago. 'John Gilligan (the man whose gang were behind Veronica's death) and his team were earning around an estimated €25m (£16.8m) when she was killed. That was 10 years ago and today those figures would be far higher. There are dealers in this town earning up to €2m (£1.3m) a week, mainly from cocaine.'
The fate of another Dublin drug dealer, Martin 'Marlo' Hyland, illustrates the volatility of the city's new underworld. Hyland was shot four times in the head while he slept upstairs in his niece's house at Scribblestown Park, Finglas, last Tuesday morning. The 39-year-old dealer had been moving from house to house following a warning that his life was in danger. The street-wise career criminal ran a 10-man-strong gang of young, hardened drug dealers.
Detectives investigating his assassination believe that he was betrayed by at least two of his associates and the reason was simple - greed. 'They simply wanted to take over his operations,' said a senior Garda detective.
'Marlo had built up a vast empire on the northside that stretched from Finglas right over to Coolock. He was making huge profits, and somebody on the inside of the gang wanted more. They had killed other dealers in Finglas who were lowering their prices and getting in their way.'
The ruthless nature of the gang warfare that involves at least three separate feuds across the city was later demonstrated when Marlo's killers shot dead a 20-year old plumber, Anthony Campbell, as he worked on a radiator at the same house.
The plumber had no connections to Marlo or any other criminal boss. Anthony Campbell was targeted in all likelihood because he might have identified the unmasked hit team.
The Garda has scored some successes against organised crime in the city over the last 12 months. Thanks to Operation Oak and Operation Anvil - two major drives against the underworld - 2006 saw a record number of drugs seizures in the Irish Republic.
But those working with drug addicts in Dublin say that at no time in the year did the price of drugs rise as a result of a choking off of the supply.
Another worrying development is the use of bombs, which are being manufactured in Dundalk by former Provisional IRA and dissident republican explosives experts, and then sold on to various gangs.
Joe Costelloe represents the north inner city for the Labour Party, a constituency where many of the murders have taken place. He says that gangland killings have the lowest detection rate of any crime - just 15 per cent.
'There is a big incentive for young hitmen, many of them with drug habits themselves to fund, to go on killing. There is big money for a hit. Then there is the knowledge, which the detection figures show, that you are likely to get away with it,' he said.