SINCE the beginning of the year, there's been an average of one gangland killing every fortnight. Eight murders in four months isn't a notable increase compared with last year's figures but it's a clear indication that gang feuding is a phenomenon that continues to thrive in line with our illegal drugs market. Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy indicated his recognition of this in January by establishing the Organised Crime Unit as a permanent fulltime specialist taskforce to tackle gangrelated crime and increasing their resources.
Media attention has focused on Dublin's Sheriff Street and Limerick in recent weeks, as gang-related tensions escalated. But the most worrying trend for gardai is that this problem is not confined to specific areas but is touching most parts of the country and affecting society as a whole.
Here, the Sunday Tribune looks at some possible solutions to gangland crime and examines how other jurisdictions have tried to break the cycle of violence.
1.24-HOUR SURVEILLANCE OF GANG MEMBERS
TWENTY-FOUR hour around the clock surveillance of known gang leaders is the only way to stop spiralling gang-related violence, according to Fine Gael justice spokesman, Charlie Flanagan.
"We have a different situation to other countries because of our size. We should put gangland leaders under 24-hour around-theclock surveillance. The gardai know who they are and should be provided with the resources to monitor them. There should also be an investment in top level surveillance equipment like CCTV so there can be electronic monitoring as well. It would be a costly exercise but you cannot put a price on the benefits this would have for local communities. Look at the situation in Limerick. The people in charge of the regeneration down there acknowledge that for it to be successful, the gang leaders have to be taken away from the communities."
Flanagan added that mandatory life sentences of 25 years should be enforced without the possibility of early parole. "At the moment, the average time spent in prison for someone serving life for murder is 13-and-ahalf to 14 years. Life should mean life. There is also a legal instrument under the 2007 Criminal Justice Act for someone to be convicted of directing gang activity. No-one has been charged with this yet."
2.STATUTORY WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAMME
AS IRELAND'S witness protection programme is not run on a statutory basis many people are reluctant to testify against former criminal associates, according to Labour Party spokesman on justice, Pat Rabbitte.
"In most other jurisdictions, the witness protection programme is statutory. This gives people willing to participate and turn state's evidence against criminals an extra protection. As far as I'm aware, much of the money allocated to the programme has gone unspent. It needs to be put on a statutory footing to ensure its constitutionality. The Labour Party have published a bill on this and the court of criminal appeal has been critical of the fact that it's not a statutory programme.
The gardai don't seem enamoured of the programme."
He added that he would also support the admittance in trials of garda electronic surveillance in evidence against known criminals. "This would greatly help in convicting people. The origins of the problem of gangland crime essentially lie in the enormous profit to be made from the drugtrafficking industry. There is so much money to be made. I don't think legalising drugs to take it out of the hands of the criminals is necessarily the answer. There are some arguments for it but there are also downsides for society."
3.INTERNMENT ON SPIKE ISLAND
INTERNMENT of high-ranking gangland figures must be introduced if we intend to seriously tackle gangland crime, according to Fine Gael Limerick councillor Kevin Kiely.
"What's happening in Limerick is not exclusive . . . gangland crime is happening all over the country. We've lost control of our streets and the judiciary are not equipped to handle it. A couple of weeks ago, a man walked into a pub with a sawn-off shotgun and only for the quick thinking of a few locals who detained him, who knows what would have happened? That man admitted the gun was his and was charged and then granted bail anyway.
"I would favour selective internment for high-ranking gang members nationwide and those involved in feuding, not just in Limerick.
The gardai know who these people are. We've a jail below in Spike Island and plenty of military barracks that could be used. There would need to be legislation brought in to do this and we're due to meet defence minister Willie O'Dea to discuss this."
Kiely is also chairman of Limerick's joint policing committee. His call for internment has been supported by former Southill curate Fr Joe Young. Any attempt to introduce it would be vigorously opposed by civil liberties groups and some political parties (see number 5).
4.LOCKDOWN PORTS OF ENTRY
STATE agencies must share intelligence and lockdown the country's ports and airports to hit drug gangs where it hurts, according to Sinn Fein justice spokesman, Aengus O Snodaigh. "Gangland violence is a huge problem in my own area, Crumlin and Drimnagh. There's been an on-going feud there that's claimed a number of lives. One of the problems is the availability of guns despite Operation Anvil. Every time a drug shipment comes in, they throw in a sawn-off shotgun, rocket-launcher or grenade. These guys are ruthless. All the state agencies need to work together and lock down the ports and the airports. Another thing we need to do is admit this is a national crisis."
Gardai also need their long-promised radio communication system, he added. "At the moment, they have an out-dated system that anyone can easily hack into so the gardai use their mobile phones, which isn't ideal. I'd also support a state mechanism being developed so that feuding gangs can sit down together and sort out their problems. The department of justice could run this and get support from local gardai and community workers. People never thought peace would be achieved in the North but it was through discussion and negotiation."
5.LEARN LESSONS FROM NORTHERN IRELAND
SEGREGATION in Northern Ireland had disastrous consequences and social exclusion should not have had the opportunity to develop in Southern Ireland, according to a human rights and social change organisation, the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) in Derry.
"I don't claim to be an expert but when I look at Limerick, it seems to be the kind of situation that led to rioting in Belfast during the Troubles.
"It's an appalling disgrace considering the economy that's thrived in the Republic that that level of deprivation has been allowed to develop, " according to PFC spokesperson Paul O'Connor.
"The only lesson the south can draw from the north is not to demonise communities.
Don't allow the demonisation of the people of Limerick. The tabloid media play a definite role in that. To introduce something like internment in the south would be to set aside due process. Efforts should be made so that no communities are segregated."
6.ALTERNATIVES TO IMPRISONMENT
STEERING young people away from criminality before they become seriously involved could reduce involvement in gang crime and save the state hugely in financial and social terms, according to an Irish academic of criminal justice law.
"We need to look at alternatives to imprisonment. Imprisonment is reactive, we need to take a more proactive approach and stop crime before it happens, " says Walter O'Leary, course leader of Waterford Institute of Technology's (WIT) undergraduate BA in Criminal Justice Studies. "Discussion around the extension of community policing is welcome. It's shown to have an impact on reducing crime.
"The establishment of garda sub-stations in communities would have a positive effect because gardai aren't seen as only arriving when there is trouble . . . they are already part of the community. We need to move away from the model of imprisonment and rather spend the money on imaginative ways to give people alternatives to crime, like those who've dropped out of the conventional school system.
"To fully measure the cost of crime consider the garda investigation, prosecution, judiciary, insurance costs and the medical and mental health cost sometimes incurred to the victim.
Imprisonment is always necessary in some cases but it should be seen as a last resort because of the high instance of recidivism."
REDUCE DEMAND FOR DRUGS
GANG culture will thrive in deprived areas as long as society continues to demand illegal drugs, says Prof Ian O'Donnell at UCD's School of Law. "Gangland murder in Ireland didn't exist a decade ago, it's a new class of killing. Gang activity thrives on the sale of drugs. Becoming involved with gangs is a societal thing, it comes about because of inequality. It has become a very high-risk activity for the young people who become involved in terms of the levels of violence as well as prison. It is their opportunity to become successful because third-level education often isn't a possibility. Those involved are generally from marginalised communities but it is all of society that is fuelling it because of the demand for drugs.
Affluent people have a penchant for drugs as much as the least well-off. As long as the marketplace demands it, criminals will use risky behaviour to provide the product."
THE murder rate in many of America's big cities including New York and Chicago have fallen dramatically in recent years as a result of a "zero-tolerance" approach to homicide.
Killings in Chicago were down 25% last year and New York recorded its fewest homicides in 40 years. Chicago, the US murder capital in 2003 with 598 homicides, saw the number fall to 447. It was the first time that the city had ended a year with fewer than 500 murders since 1965. Police claimed credit for targeting the city's street gangs. An extra 180 officers from the Targeted Response Unit were despatched every night to areas plagued by gang violence. As a result, killings fell most sharply in the most dangerous neighbourhoods, with murder down 55% in one district.
The Chicago police also revived their gang intelligence unit, which had been disbanded in the late 1990s because of corruption. Various US states are currently in the process of installing technology that can pinpoint the occurrence of gunshots in cities.
The zero tolerance policing tactics were first pioneered by New York, which saw its murder rate fall from a peak of 2,245 during the crack cocaine epidemic of 1990 to less than 450 in 2007 . . . its lowest since 1963. This dramatic fall in violent crime has transformed the Big Apple.
MONEY SEIZED FROM GANG ACTIVITY SHOULD BE PUMPED BACK INTO ANTI-GANG INITIATIVES IN AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
MONEY seized from criminals involved in gang and knife crime in London is made available to groups working in the areas worst affected by such activity and is helping turn the tide of gang culture.
The government-supported initiative began in 2005 and the money seized from criminals is funding 10 projects with nearly a quarter of a million each year.
The 10 projects to be awarded funding operate mainly in Lambeth, Newham, Southwark, Haringey, Brent and Hackney.
The initiative followed figures from a charity survey which revealed that 1% of children in some high crime areas have carried a handgun.
The survey, by the Communities That Care organisation, highlighted the link between gun carrying and other criminal behaviour such as drug abuse.
"For this reason it is vital that we work in partnership to offer advice to young people, steering them away from involvement with weapons and gangs. Gun, gang and knife crime has a violent impact on local communities in London, and we need to tackle this issue at a grassroots level, " said Roger King, regional crime director for London.
April 27, 2008