Thursday, 1 July 2010

The end of two lives of crime

Irish Times

The scene of the Corbally brothers' shooting on Neilstown Road. Photograph: Bryan O'BrienIn this section »
A tide in the affairs of Inis MeáinWhy we pay so much more for groceriesThis week’s fatal shootings of Kenneth and Paul Corbally ended two crime careers, and underlined the many challenges facing Ballyfermot, writes CONOR LALLY
THE KILLING OF Kenneth and Paul Corbally was carried out with savage efficiency last Monday. The brothers, from Ballyfermot in west Dublin, were sitting in their parked car on Neilstown Road in Clondalkin, with a 14-year-old boy in the back seat, when a car rammed into them. Two masked men armed with semi-automatic handguns got out of the car, which had been stolen, and fired into the Corballys’ car, hitting the brothers in the head and upper body.
The boy was hit three times in the arm and chest. He managed to scramble from the vehicle and has been under armed guard in hospital all week amid reports of threats on his life because he witnessed the shooting and could be in a position to give evidence in court.
Almost immediately after news of the killings broke, former drug-dealing associates of the Corbally brothers emerged as the chief suspects.
In recent years the brothers and a number of other drug dealers from Ballyfermot and neighbouring Clondalkin had split from an organised crime gang they had been aligned to in Ballyfermot. Last September members of both factions clashed in a Ballyfermot pub car park when a group of at least 20 fought with knives, broken bottles, glasses and a hatchet. One man was killed.
A few months ago the Corballys stabbed a member of the rival faction, though he survived. In April the brothers tried to shoot dead the faction’s leader, but he escaped.
Garda sources familiar with the gang rivalry said even before these incidents that tensions had been increasing because, in the recession-hit drugs world, competition for drug-dealing turf is more intense than ever.
The dead men were the only boys in a family of five children reared in a local-authority house on Drumfinn Avenue, off Ballyfermot Road, where their parents still live. Paul (35) was married and had at least one child, a baby girl. Kenneth (32) was also a father and is believed to have been in a long-term relationship. Both brothers had been living between Ballyfermot and Clondalkin in recent years.
A group of the dead brothers’ associates gathered outside the house this week to warn journalists off approaching the family. One journalist who called to leave a letter for the Corballys requesting an interview was assaulted by those outside. Others were met with aggression and verbal abuse.
Ballyfermot residents who know the family say they could never remember either Paul or Kenneth having a job. “They used to fix cars and I think sell cars out of the house, but they never had what you’d call a normal job,” says one local woman.
Another resident described Mrs Corbally and her three daughters as “great girls”. But the dead brothers and their father, Patrick, seemed to generate more fear than respect.
Patrick Corbally (56) was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1999 for possession of a machine gun with intent to endanger life, after a man who had gone to collect a car at the Corbally family home was shot by Kenneth while his brother Paul joined the attack using an iron bar. Kenneth was never charged for this, and his few convictions were for minor matters.
The court was told that, despite being unemployed, Patrick Corbally had an affluent lifestyle. Like his two sons he was on unemployment benefit, yet they had two new pick-up trucks and a new car at their house at the time. In January 2002 Paul Corbally was jailed for five years after taking part in a 1997 armed robbery during which a garage owner was rammed in his car in Clondalkin and relieved of more than €3,000.
At that time Paul Corbally had numerous convictions, dating back to 1994, for larceny, public order and assault. He was before the courts again in 2001 after a large piece of a double-barrel shotgun was found down his trousers when gardaí stopped their car near Lucan. He and Kenneth were wearing fake beards, and gardaí found a balaclava, hairpieces and a bottle of stage make-up glue in the car. Paul Corbally was cleared of possessing a component of a gun on a technicality: that the handle of a gun was not central to its discharge.
Garda sources say the brothers were originally members of a west Dublin group known as the M50 gang, which carried out robberies in Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary and elsewhere. The gang was known for breaking into houses to steal legally held shotguns. “They’d have no problem roughing up old people who got in the way. They were particularly violent,” says one Garda source.
They also ram-raided and robbed warehouses where high-value resalable goods, such as cigarettes and alcohol, were stored.
In recent years the Corballys had graduated to a significant level of drug dealing in west Dublin. In April one of their fellow gang members, Michael Byrne, a 36-year-old from Old Tower, in Clondalkin, was jailed for 18 years after being caught in possession of heroin worth €6.2 million in 2008.
The man who leads the faction believed to have carried out the Corballys’ killing is a notorious gang leader from Ballyfermot. He has been involved in serious gangland crime since the mid-1990s, when he had links to some members of the John Gilligan gang. A number of men who remain his close associates were jailed for possessing drugs worth hundreds of thousands of euro in the early 1990s, when such large seizures were less frequent. As well as drug dealing, he has been involved in money lending, extortion and money laundering. He has at least 15 convictions.
Senior gardaí fear Monday’s double killing will prove the first chapter in a tit-for-tat murderous feud. Despite its drug problem, unlike other parts of west and southwest Dublin, Ballyfermot has featured infrequently in media coverage of gang violence. “They mightn’t have been shooting each other much up till now, but there’s plenty of people on drugs,” said one local pensioner.
ON THE SURFACE Ballyfermot seems to have done well from the boom. At the centre of the village is the new Ballyfermot Civic Centre, which runs all of Dublin City Council’s services for Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard. It houses a library and a theatre, which hosted Riverdance last year. Nearby, the new Ballyfermot Leisure Centre houses a 25m pool, six five-a-side all-weather football pitches and a gym. Cherry Orchard Equine Centre, just beside Ballyfermot, is one of the biggest facilities of its kind in Europe, and the area also boasts the Ballyfermot College of Further Education.
But despite these facilities, research prepared for Dublin City Council paints a grim picture of the area, with all seven of its local electoral divisions classified as disadvantaged or extremely disadvantaged. One of the areas, Kylemore, recorded the lowest level of disadvantage possible, while the other six areas recorded the second-lowest score possible.
Just over half of the young people in the Ballyfermot area leave school before the Leaving cert, the second worst record in Dublin. And research carried out in 2007 by the local Ballyfermot Partnership community project revealed the number of young people from the area attending third level reduced between 2002 and 2007, from 6.5 per cent to just 4 per cent. The national average is 23 per cent.
The research notes: “Ballyfermot is essentially a working-class area characterised by extreme deprivation, high unemployment, low incomes and relatively large numbers of lone parents.” Vincent Jackson, an Independent councillor, says the facilities the area has gained in the past decade are the envy of other working-class communities and are reaching many at-risk children, as well as disadvantaged families. But what worries him most is the rising unemployment rate. In 2006, he says, there were just over 800 long-term unemployed in Ballyfermot but there are now just under 3,400, in an area with a total population of just under 21,000.
He is also fearful of the attitude of some locals towards Monday’s killings. “There’s a perception that if a person gets shot who has been involved in crime, then somehow those lives are expendable. But we shouldn’t stoop to that lowest common denominator; it will only lead to more violence.” Jackson says the fact that Monday’s attack happened in Clondalkin rather than Ballyfermot, even though the victims and suspected killers are all from Ballyfermot and deal drugs there, lessened the impact for those in his community.
Fr Seamus Ryan, the parish priest at St Matthew’s Church, where the funeral Mass of the two Corballys is due to be concelebrated this morning, says Ballyfermot has changed during his 18 years there.
“Living conditions have definitely improved. The appearance of the place is far better, and things such as joyriding, which was a massive problem, have gone. But the drugs are all around; that’s the difference. The fear in Ballyfermot is not of gangs; it’s parents worrying their kids will end up on drugs.”
Just off Ballyfermot Road, which runs through the village, is the Base, a new €7 million facility for at-risk young people. It provides a range of health-related and legal services to young people referred by the Probation Service, the Garda, the HSE, the Department of Education, local schools and parent . It also has a creche where young parents can leave their children while they focus on staying in school or addressing personal issues such as drug addiction. The Base also provides a cafe and pool room, computer rooms and recording studios.
One worker says those employed in the centre are frustrated by the lack of support from the Government. “Most of the money for the facilities you see around here came from the EU because it designated Ballyfermot as a black spot,” says another. “A lot of the kids are into cannabis and alcohol in terms of consumption, and cocaine and heroin for selling; some are runners for gangs, bringing drugs from A to B for them. For us it’s obviously about trying to prevent them getting wrapped up in drugs, either ending up strung out or in a gang.”
Others say successive governments have been too short term in their thinking and constantly try to address complex social issues via the criminal justice response of more investment in the Garda and prisons. “If you get the kids young, invest in them now, you can steer a lot of them away from crime, keep them in school. It can definitely be done.”

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