Research and accounts by five gardaí show criminal networks are becoming embedded in society and normalised due to fear, writes Security Correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe.
That an experienced garda would say that “gangs run the area” is as damning an indictment as you can get of society’s collective failure of certain communities.
And that garda’s view, given anonymously to researchers, is not unique. A total of five gardaí provided an honest and consistent picture of the structural and daily realities of communities affected by gangs and the sharp end of the drugs trade.
Researchers Johnny Connolly of University of Limerick and Jane Mulcahy of University College Cork also spoke to 10 community activists across a wide stretch of Dublin’s south west inner city and south west Dublin.
The report, Building Community Resilience, gives us a rare and detailed insight into gangs, which they more accurately describe as “criminal networks”. The networks are often characterised as a large, loose grouping of street drug dealers and runners and a more organised layer of bosses or “key players”.
Mr Connolly was commissioned by four local policing fora in Dublin South Central, a large area running from Kevin St to Ballyfermot and from James’s St to Drimnagh and Crumlin.
Building upon the work of the Greentown study, his work involved mapping known criminals and their associations with other criminals and discussing these individuals confidentially with local gardaí.
The study identified about 650 people, then pared them down to two identifiable criminal networks across the area, the first comprising 44 individuals and the second 52 individuals, including a large number of teenagers in the 15-17 age bracket.
In both cases, the numbers did not include younger children, from around age 11 up and under 15, who are engaging at an early stage with the networks and often acting as “runners” (carrying quantities of drugs from A to B).
As one garda said:
The report said the young people and the foot soldiers are seen as “plentiful and expendable”. The study said the second network (SCN2) appears to be “far more organised” than the other network (SCN1).
Analysing the associations and talking to the gardaí, the researchers reveal the second network structure: A close group of five ‘key players’; a local controller (or top lieutenant); a couple of other lieutenants, and a large number of foot soldiers.
In a map of 52 individuals, seven of them emerge as the most significant of players in the network. The top layer includes individuals involved in importing large consignments of drugs, with family connections and with “links to the cartel” — taken as the Kinahan drugs cartel.
Underneath them is the local controller or senior lieutenant who is on the ground, assisted by other lieutenants, particularly one key individual. Gardaí said the key players have managed to elevate themselves from the street by avoiding “long sentences and or death”.
One garda (Garda 5) said: “Organised crime is a hierarchy of people bosses, lieutenants, foot soldiers. All SE18 [top lieutenant] has to do is text someone, arrange someone to say ‘this needs to be done’ and it gets done.”
He said this lieutenant hasn’t picked up any serious charges and would have been mentored by one of the bosses. In relation to this boss, the garda said: “SC101, you know, he would be involved in a family who would be huge in importation and with links to the cartel as they are all known now.”
He said SE18 would control “practically everyone underneath him” and everything, from storing of drugs, prepping drugs, burning out cars, intimidation, even murders. Another garda (Garda 4) said this lieutenant and the other main lieutenant (SE35) have groups of 15- to 17-year-olds doing their bidding on the street, including dealing, and take in all the young kids.
“They are in the estate as well and everything and anything that happens in the estate goes through these two fellas and these [young] boys all kind of aspire to one day end up like these fellas,” said Garda 4
He said the younger teenagers and even younger kids see these individuals with cash and the expensive clothes: “They just see the handy cash they get in and the fancy clothes and they want to be like that. They think these two can’t do anything wrong.”
Garda 5 said the bosses at the top “don’t allow themselves to get caught doing anything” and added: “The head of the snake is always there where everyone else below is replaceable. There are always other younger people always able to step up or enough of them and there are always people who want to join the gang.”
Gardaí said that when someone is caught by gardaí, say in a drug seizure, they are “stood down” from the network, and someone else put in to deal, out of concern that the person caught might inform to lessen their sentence.
The other criminal network (SCN1) is seen as less organised, but gardaí still identified “key players”. One garda said that “one of the bigger players” has more than 80 convictions, yet has spent “very little time in prison”, while another player is linked to a current feud in the city. Researchers did find connections between the two criminal networks and said 34 people appear in both.
The report said that “many of the key individuals” involved in both networks either are or have been resident in close proximity to each other.
The report, being published today in the F2 Centre in Rialto, found a “widespread reluctance” across many areas of Dublin South Central to report crime, either due to fear or reprisal or a belief that little would be done about it.
It said that while these networks can cause “significant harm”, they represent a “very small proportion of the residents”. It said network bosses maintain their control through “fear and intimidation” and “a degree of apathy or resignation” on the part of the community.
Garda 3 said the impact of these networks on the communities they are in is “huge”, making parts “a no-go area for policing”. His colleague (Garda 2) said “local communities feel terrorised” and cited the impact on a school after drug users cut open its fencing to take drugs and use the place as a toilet.
Garda 4 said there was a “code” among network members not to interact with gardaí, meaning local people are scared talking to gardaí even about routine matters. He said that the network run the areas “by fear of the repercussions” if people talk.
Garda 5 said one area in Network 2is “almost self-policed” and that the two lieutenants have “created an aura of fear... and respect”, adding: “The gangs run the area.”
Researchers said people get involved in networks either out of the material gain to be had or because they build up debt through addiction. The report said that criminal networks can become “embedded in communities and normalised, due to fear”.