By Tom Brady
Wednesday December 13 2006
MURDER victim Martin Hyland had established himself as Ireland's biggest drugs baron in the past two years.
Although a career criminal, he was a latecomer to the lucrative premier league of drug trafficking after investing the profits he garnered from a series of armed robberies in a number of shipments being smuggled into the country.
Hyland switched to the narcotics trade when gardai cracked down on the gangs primarily responsible for a spate of armed raids on cash-in-transit vans in the earlier part of the decade.
His decision to switch to drugs was taken three years ago and within a year he had emerged as one of the most active and ruthless crime figures in the business here. By the end of 2005, senior Garda officers were satisfied he was gangland's number one boss. A top level Garda conference discussing how to tackle the wave of violence in gangland led to the setting up of Operation Oak, which was aimed specifically at shutting down Hyland's activities.
Gardai were aware that Hyland had built up a nest egg from his substantial slice of more than €2m which had been netted from the armed raids in Dublin and surrounding counties, mainly in 2003 and 2004.
Hyland and his northside associates, were reckoned to be responsible for the vast bulk of the robberies from the security vans as they delivered cash to ATMs.
The robberies yielded an estimated total of €3m and Hyland's outfit struck at targets in Drogheda, Co Louth, Swords, Dublin, Palmerstown, Dublin Maynooth, Co Kildare, and Enfield, Co Meath.
The robberies prompted gardai to set up Operation Delivery involving a 25-strong team drawn from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
That operation led to a series of arrests, and as security firms introduced tighter measures to control the movement of cash shipments, the gangs were forced to divert their attention to other areas.
Hyland came close to being caught on the job last April when some of his closest associates were captured in a Garda net as they were about to snatch an €80,000 payroll from a firm in Balbriggan, Co Dublin.
Detectives from two specialist operations, Delivery and Steel, were backed up by members of the Emergency Response Unit as they lay in wait following an intelligence lead. The robbery was foiled, arrests were made but Hyland escaped.
However, another blow to his bank balance had been struck by the gardai, who had previously intercepted a ton of cannabis, with an estimated street value of €700,000 at Drumcondra Rd in Dublin in December.
As gardai penetrated his gang, Hyland no longer appeared to be Mr Untouchable and the impact of the Garda attention brought him into further conflict with other criminals as he sought to keep ahead of his rivals and eliminate those he believed responsible for the seizures.
It was only a matter of time before he became the latest gangland victim.
- Tom Brady