Sunday, 29 April 2007

Battleground still tense despite gang boss's jailing

Sunday April 29 2007
AN UNUSUAL raid on a house in a well-to-do part of the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham took place last October as part of the Garda Siochana's investigations into the bloody feud that had broken out in north inner Dublin over the revelation that gangster Christy Griffin had been raping his partner's daughter since she was a child.

Gardai arrived at the house at six o'clock one morning and carried out a search but found nothing. The house probably has a market value of around €2m. It is owned by the former "OC", or officer commanding, of the Dublin IRA.

The detectives were looking for a stash of grenades which, they believed, had been handed over by members of the IRA in Belfast to a man centrally involved in the feud. Two grenade attacks had taken place as part of the feud.

The IRA "OC" and Christy Griffin were long-time associates. The "OC" used Griffin and others to carry out hijackings in Dublin Port where the IRA ran a number of agents who identified containers of valuable, easily marketed goods, particularly cigarettes.

It was a highly lucrative racket. The Dublin "OC" had bought the new house in Rathfarnham for €850,000 five years earlier. He also bought a holiday home in Co Wexford close to another bought by his wife's sister, who was cohabiting with a recently released IRA prisoner. All four were closely involved with Sinn Fein.

The activities of the IRA gang from north inner Dublin were, around this time two years ago, central to what was happening in the peace process in the North. Their hijackings of containers of goods worth millions of euros from Dublin Port were becoming an increasing embarrassment to both the Government and the Sinn Fein leadership. It had been revealed in the Sunday Independent that the cigarette manufacturer Gallahers had stopped transporting cigarettes across the border because of the number of hijackings being carried out by the south Armagh IRA. Caught with increasingly damning evidence of the IRA's descent into pure criminality and increasingly pointed comments by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, the Adams-McGuinness leadership ordered that the activities cease. So it was that the IRA basically closed down its Dublin operations - though still retaining "business" links with their former colleagues.

The Dublin IRA was increasingly involved in drugs. One of the figures centrally involved in both the hijackings and drugs trade, and working directly to the IRA "OC" in Dublin was Christy Griffin. He was, to the IRA, a "deniable" asset. He was not a fully fledged member of the organisation but worked almost exclusively for percentage gain. The IRA, in Dublin, on the border and in the North, was increasingly confident it could do whatever it liked so long as it didn't constitute political "terrorism". Both the Irish and British governments were desperate to ensure that Sinn Fein was kept in the process even if it meant turning a blind eye to organised crime up to and including murder.

One of the people enjoying this de facto amnesty on IRA organised crime was Christy Griffin. He and his associates were able to conduct their activities confident that they had the full backing and muscle of the IRA. Griffin, like the IRA "OC", was a career criminal, moving from petty larceny as a teenager to increasingly violent crime. His speciality was the terrorising of innocent lorry drivers or business owners.

His nephew, Colm Griffin, of Canon Lillis Avenue, was another member of the same gang. He would be supplied with details of movements of containers or easily robbed post offices or banks and handed weapons by the IRA. In May 2005, Colm Griffin and another member of the gang, Eric Hopkins, of Lower Rutland Street, were shot dead as they carried out the armed robbery of the post office in Lusk, in north Co Dublin.

At about the same time a 19-year-old girl, the daughter of Christy Griffin's partner, had decided she had had enough torment and sexual abuse at the hands of the convicted robber and drug dealer. She went to Store Street Garda station and filed a complaint. It was something that would have been unthinkable only a few years earlier. Making a statement to the Gardai about a member of the IRA was tantamount to a death sentence.

One such case was very well known in north inner Dublin. Thomas "Tomo" Byrne was a well-known and liked figure in the north inner city's close-knit community. A female relative had been attacked and beaten by the "OC" and Byrne had confronted him in a bar and beaten him senseless. Aware that retribution was on the way Byrne fled to England. However, he returned eight months later to see his family. He was shot dead while enjoying a pint with friends in O'Neill's pub on Summerhill on April 30, 2000.

Griffin's abuse of his partner's daughter - for which he was jailed for life last week - started in 1993 when she was only eight and living at his flat in Canon Lillis Avenue. Her mother was apparently besotted with Griffin, who was also conducting affairs with other women.

The decision of the girl to file the complaint in 2005 immediately started a split in the tight-knit IRA in north inner Dublin. Griffin's associates began a campaign to terrorise the girl into withdrawing her complaint. Other members of the IRA-led gang moved to stop them. They were enraged when they heard what Griffin had done to the girl.

At first there were fist fights in local pubs, then a stabbing. Griffin moved out of the flat in Canon Lillis Avenue to a house in Ridgewood Avenue in Swords, where the first serious attempt on his life took place in October 2005, when five shots were fired at him through the living room window. From that point to the end of last year there were over 20 shooting incidents.

Last October, Gardai later learned, one of Griffin's opponents made contact with another IRA man in Belfast and acquired the cache of grenades. They went back out to Griffin's house and tried to throw a grenade through the kitchen window. It bounced off the window frame and exploded harmlessly in the back yard. After this attack the Special Branch moved in and found out that the grenades had come to Dublin from west Belfast. They also found that the "OC" was actually keeping on good terms with both as both sides were still central to his criminal operations. He has remained above the blood-letting in his former neighbourhood, and enjoys the life of a wealthy businessman with interests in the waste disposal business providing him with a means of laundering criminal earnings from his former IRA associates in the north inner city. Although he was hit with a €500,000 bill for unpaid tax by the Criminal Assets Bureau last year he is still a man of considerable means, enjoying the "peace" dividend.

After the grenade attack, Griffin's mob retaliated. The shooting match escalated with two attacks taking place in Canon Lillis Avenue and Seville Place on a single evening on November 11 last year. Then Griffin's mob shot dead Gerard Byrne on December 12 last as he emerged from a shop in the Financial Services area near his home in Sheriff Street. In retaliation the other side shot dead an innocent man, Stephen Ledden on December 27, mistaking him for the man they believed had killed Byrne.

Increasingly aware that the situation was worsening and that armed gangs were living cheek by jowl in the north inner city - some only doors away from each other - the Garda drafted hundreds of extra police into the area. During the rugby internationals in Croke Park in January Gardai were still receiving intelligence reports of impending attacks. The rugby fans on their way to and from the stadium were blissfully unaware that they were walking through a battleground only kept under control by armed detectives and almost the entire Emergency Response Unit, keeping the peace at Canon Lillis Avenue and other hot spots.

The feud isn't over. This weekend the north inner city is still tense. Griffin's mob are unrepentant, and wounds inflicted by both sides remain unhealed despite efforts by gardai, local politicians and clergy to clam things. A seasoned local detective, asked about what lay ahead, simply observed: "When thieves fall out . . . "

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