Youths now dominate gangland bloodshed
Gangs regard petty feuds and rows over cash as just cause for murder
By MAEVE SHEEHAN
Sunday June 21 2009
HE was only 20 when he was gunned down in a hail of bullets last Wednesday night. But Thomas "Tommy" Joyce was already three years into a drug-dealing career, reeled in by the ready cash which he spent on flash cars and expensive jewellery.
If anything, the brutal murder illustrated how gangland violence is now dominated by young men barely out of their teens. As gardai investigate the motive for the 16th gangland slaying of 2009, the growing suspicion is that Joyce was murdered in revenge for another murder earlier this year.
But the motives for tit-for-tat drug slayings among criminal factions increasingly dominated by 20- and 21-year-olds are often impossible to decipher, with petty feuds and rows over cash often regarded as just cause for murder.
"The scene has changed. Ten years ago criminal gangs were only coming into their prime in their 40s. Now they have made it to the top at 20 and are getting ready to be blown away," said one experienced officer.
Thomas Joyce was barely out of puberty when he was drawn into the world of drug dealing. He lived most of his life on a halting site on Grove Lane in Coolock, on the north side of Dublin, where his family are decent churchgoers in the local parish of Ayrefield.
The local priest, Fr Tom Colreavy, who was on hand to comfort his devastated family last week, said he knew the Joyce family very well.
"I'm absolutely shocked. This is another cruel, sudden death. It's terrible," he said.
The priest said he did not personally know Tommy Joyce. According to garda sources, he was 16 or 17 when he first came to their attention as a peddler of cocaine and other drugs around the streets of Darndale and Coolock.
His temperament marked him out from others in the same game. He was flash, he had a temper and was volatile, according to one detective. But for most of his short career he operated under the eye of an older associate, who was also a member of the Travelling community.
This associate was involved in drugs, trading in larger quantities with some of the bigger gangs on the northside. He tempered Joyce's excesses, according to the garda source.
Tommy Joyce had many enemies. He was known to retaliate violently to perceived insults. At one point he was suspected of throwing a pipe bomb through a window of another associate in revenge for some slight or other.
As with all drug gangs, violence dogged them. Joyce's associate was shot but miraculously survived, even though the spent shells scattered around the crime scene were evidence of the hail of bullets fired on him.
The attentions of gardai seemed not to dent their operations. The gang was raided on a number of occasions since 2007. During one raid, detectives found a cocaine mixing plant with quantities of the drug valued at €1.5m, mixing agent, weighing scales and blenders. During another, they found cocaine valued at €75,000 and ammunition.
By the time he was 18, Joyce was a key player in the operation and raking in the cash. Unlike his associate -- who is believed to have invested cash in foreign property -- Joyce flaunted his wealth.
He was just 19 when he paid €70,000 in cash as a part-payment for a Range Rover sports model.
He also bought a BMW car. He took out four separate motor insurance policies, insuring nine separate vehicles in cash.
Given his extravagance, it was inevitable the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) should catch up with him.
In February 2008, officers from CAB and a batallion of gardai raided the halting site on Grove Lane, just off the Malahide Road in Coolock. They found cocaine valued at €3,000 and one spent and one unused shotgun cartridge. The prized Range Rover and BMW were seized.
When the CAB went to the High Court in January to seek permission to sell the cars, Tommy Joyce was publicly named as a member of the drug trafficking gang named in court as the Joyce brothers.
He was their youngest ever target. Chief Superintendent John O'Mahony told the court how Tommy Joyce and his gang continued to operate, despite a series of drug seizures by gardai.
He said they distributed drugs, mainly cocaine, and made substantial profits. Joyce had no employment record, nor did he have any visible income, the court heard. The money he used to buy the top-of-the-range cars came from his criminal activities.
Joyce lost the cars but continued running the business. His older associate was by then in prison. In his absence, Tommy assumed control.
According to one detective, Joyce's associate was able to control his mood swings and instability. But with his associate behind bars, Joyce's temper went unchecked. Long-standing allegiances in the crime world were broken and relationships soured.
He had fallen out with a gang based in Dublin's Sheriff Street, according to detectives. He had alienated many of his associate's former allies. When another rival, John B Clarke, was murdered in Artane in May, the rumour was that Joyce may have had something to do with it.
Like Joyce, Clarke had graduated into the drug trade at a young age. He was 21, with a string of convictions for drug offences and a burgeoning heroin operation under his control. A native of Darndale, Clarke had been embroiled in tit-for- tat rows with rival gangs in the area. He was shot in the knees in March, but survived.
Just two months later, Clarke was fatally gunned down as he left an underground car park in Artane with two friends.
The word on the criminal grapevine was that Joyce had supplied the gun used in the shooting. There was speculation that Joyce may have fallen out with Clarke over money. Gardai investigated the allegation, but could find no evidence to support it.
"When relations are fractured and difficult, it's difficult to get a handle on what the factors behind [a murder] are," said one detective.
At 7.30pm on Wednesday, Joyce was standing at the entrance to the halting site on Grove Road chatting to another man. A blue Ford Focus drove alongside him. Several men pointed handguns from the car and started firing at Joyce.
Joyce started to run, but five bullets struck his head and back. He was pronounced dead at Beaumont Hospital at 9pm.
Gardai investigating the shooting have recovered the car they believe was used in the attack. A blue Ford Focus estate was found burnt out nearby. The registration matches the number plates witnesses identified on the gunmen's car.
Officially, gardai say they are keeping an open mind on the motives for Joyce's murder, as they peel back the layers of feuds and rows that dominated his short life. But it's highly likely that detectives will want to interview some of Clarke's associates. Like Joyce, some of them are barely out of their teens.
- MAEVE SHEEHAN