Cormac O’Keeffe: Depraved acts of dismemberment and symbolism the new face of crime

Last month’s gruesome attacks are indicative of a trend in violent crime that cannot be divorced from the effect of cuts to policing and other services, says Security Correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe.

Cormac O’Keeffe: Depraved acts of dismemberment and symbolism the new face of crime

Last month’s gruesome attacks are indicative of a trend in violent crime that cannot be divorced from the effect of cuts to policing and other services, says Security Correspondent Cormac O’Keeffe.

THE burial of the three McGinley children comes at the end of a particularly gruesome January.

Those three deaths should, in any normal context, demand that every other serious crime, even every other homicide, not be mentioned, such is the scale of the horror.

But the triple murder of Conor McGinley, 9, his brother Darragh, 7, and their little sister, Carla, 3, came in the same few weeks that saw the shocking murder and dismemberment of Keane Mulready-Woods, 17.

The last month has also seen the violent death of another young man, Cork youth Cameron Blair, 20.

There have been seven violent deaths already this year, almost the same number as in the first three months of last year.

In addition, January saw the attempted abduction of a woman out walking, several attempted gun murders in Drogheda and north Dublin, and the setting alight of a man in his Cork home.

2020 dawns

The start of the month was ominous when, on January 2, an 18-year-old had one of his fingers cut off in a fight involving up to 20 youths in Artane, north Dublin.

In a trend that has become a feature of such acts of violence, the incident was captured on video and shared on social media.

On January 6, a woman in her late 60s and out for her morning walk near Dublin’s Phoenix Park was subject to an attempted abduction when a man tried unsuccessfully to bundle her into a car.

On January 11 came the first homicide of the year, with the fatal beating of John Butler, aged 48, in Portlaw, Co Waterford.

On January 12, the same day as a shooting in Kilbarrack, north Dublin, in which a man in his 30s received injuries, Keane Mulready-Woods went missing.

17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods
17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods

At 6.20pm the following day, January 13, a botched shooting occurred on the Bridge of Peace in Drogheda, when a gunman fired into a taxi. The gunman’s target was a senior member of one of the two feuding gangs in the town. He was in the front passenger seat and his partner in the back seat.

The target escaped being hit, but the innocent taxi driver, John Myles, was shot in the back. As he said in an emotional interview on local radio LMFM, he narrowly escaped being either paralysed or killed.

Gardaí now suspect that attack may have been in revenge for the abduction and what was then the suspected murder of Keane.

That night, in an act that has been compared to the actions of the Mafia or even the Mexican cartels, a sports bag was thrown from a car onto the streets of an estate in Coolock, north Dublin.

Discovered by local youths, it contained the four limbs of a body.

Gardaí believe it was deliberately put there to send a message to local criminals, linked to the other side of the Drogheda feud.

Videos were circulated on social media, purporting to be of Keane’s dismembered body and head, in a further act of humiliation.

Gardaí quickly stated that the videos were not of Keane.

Two days later, a head was found inside a burning car near Drumcondra in north Dublin city. That day, gardaí confirmed the remains as that of Keane.

As the country tried to digest the unfolding horror, a 20-year-old man had his life cut short in Cork city.

Cameron Blair was fatally stabbed outside a house party on Bandon Rd.

His was the sixth violent death in Cork since July, and came just three weeks after Frankie Dunne, a homeless man in supported accommodation, was found dismembered in the grounds of a vacant house on Boreenmanna Rd on December 28.

In the two days after Cameron’s death, two men escaped being killed in a gangland shooting in north Dublin, while two other men, one just 21, were injured in a shooting outside a pub in Sixmilebridge, Co Clare.

On January 20, up to three men, believed to have been armed with a machete and iron bars, entered the home of Keith Greaney in Mayfield, Cork. They beat him, doused him in petrol, and set him alight.

That horrific assault followed an attack in the city a few days previously when a man suffered a fractured skull after being struck by men wielding a hammer and a baseball bat.

Then on Friday evening, January 24, the three McGinley children were found when their father Andrew and emergency services entered the family home.

Gardaí investigating Keane Mulready-Woods' murder in Drogheda recently.
Gardaí investigating Keane Mulready-Woods' murder in Drogheda recently.

On the same day, a 17-year-old male in Dundalk was injured by an attacker brandishing a samurai sword.

On January 26, Philip Doyle, aged 33, was fatally stabbed outside his home in Gorey, Co Wexford.

Three days later, two unarmed uniformed gardaí escaped a grim fate after a gunman fired twice at their marked patrol car in north Wexford after earlier pointing a gun at them and making threats.


CSO figures show that homicides — murder and manslaughter — have fallen from a peak in the mid to late noughties, with 69 homicides in 2005, 74 in 2006, and 87 in 2007.

The number hovered around the 60 mark over the next seven years, before dropping dramatically in 2015 (36). It rose to 48 in 2017 and 47 in 2018, with 29 in the first nine months of 2019.

January 2020 shows a reversal in the trend, but experts warn it is only one month and that figures could be dramatically different in the coming months.

The seven violent deaths in January compare to eight in the first three months of 2019.

The corresponding figures for the first three months of previous years were: 12 (2018), 10 (2017), with the highest in 2010 (18) and 2009 (16).

“In my time the average was around 60 homicides over a year,” said former Louth detective inspector Pat Marry. “With seven murders, manslaughters, and sudden deaths in January, we would be going over that [if the trend continues]”. He said the dismemberment of Keane was “horrendous” with the gang behind it “really overstepping the mark” by abducting, torturing, and dismembering the youth and then deliberately displaying body parts in areas where enemies lived.

But he points out that savage violence is not new in gangland terms and cites extreme violence inflicted by members of the Drogheda gangs before, including on a couple suspected of being murdered and violated by one notoriously violent crime boss.

Mr Marry, author of The Making of a Detective, said he worked in Blanchardstown, west Dublin at the time of the notorious Westies (late 90s-early 2000s) who had a habit of inflicting extreme violence on women, including those who were pregnant.

He declined to comment on the McGinley children but said that the violence in gangland was part and parcel of that criminality.

After the murder of Keane, community groups such as the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, as well as researchers and youth workers, told the

Irish Examiner

that the extreme level of violence perpetrated by gangs, and the grooming of children into gangs, had been going on for many years and highlighted by them, with little response.

They also said that this trend could not be divorced from the effect on working-class communities of austerity cuts to policing, social services, and drug and youth projects.

Added to that, they said, has been the collapse in the partnership approach between State and community that was there in the mid to late 1990s as part of the response to gangland violence and drug epidemics.

Many of these issues, and others, have also been detailed in research projects published last year.

Mr Marry said gardaí have succeeded against gangs when the proper resources and management were there.

He said that after the murder of Garda Tony Golden in October 2015, gardaí demanded that management respond to the dearth of manpower in Louth, resulting in a large increase in staff on transfer.

He said in 2016-17 they set up Operation Scale in the Dundalk district, which involved a plan, surveillance, undercover work, and checkpoints in the district and along the border, supported by the Armed Support Unit and the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Mr Marry said they identified the various gang members, drew up profiles, and “went after them”, seizing more than €1m in property, drugs, and cash, and a house. Some 25 street dealers were jailed and he claims there was a 30% drop in crime and a 45% fall in burglaries. He said they “broke up” the gangs targeted.

But after 12 months there was no more funding and they “pulled the plug” on the operation.

“Operation Scale is, in my opinion, a blueprint for policing, what gardaí can achieve when it has the resources and proper management,” he said.

He strongly criticised reports of serious cuts to overtime, saying it, and manpower, was the “lifeblood” of policing.

Johnny Connolly, a criminologist at the University of Limerick, declined to comment on the McGinley tragedy.

On violence linked to gangs and the drugs trade, he said there had been a “qualitative change” in the nature of violence, in which the target of the violence had extended beyond the person concerned, to their families.

This, as documented by Citywide and the National Family Support Network, has seen families being intimidated to pay drug debts of their loved ones.

This intimidation could range from verbal threats to cars and homes being petrol bombed or shot at, to people being physically attacked.

Mr Connolly, who has researched drug markets and gangs, said the inclusion of families as a target has “become normalised”.

He said Keane’s dismemberment was “harrowing and shocking” and a “symbolic act” to send a message to the other side.

“The use of violence as a symbol has not really been seen so much here,” he said. “We have had intimidation, but not that sort of depraved violence. Is this something we are going to see more of?”

Garda at the scene on Trinity Terrace in the Drumcondra area of Dublin where human remains were found. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Garda at the scene on Trinity Terrace in the Drumcondra area of Dublin where human remains were found. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

He said “some children, in certain areas” were being exploited and groomed into the drugs trade and that, once in, it was hard to get out, particularly for those who have obligations because of debts accrued.

He said the typical reaction of the State was to respond with a hardline approach, with new powers and new laws.

“It’s often a symbolic reaction by the State trying to reassert itself, but really it is symbolic of an absence of authority and a symptom of that absence in certain areas, where people are disengaging from the police and the criminal justice system due to fear.

“That should be seen as a major crisis.”

He said a more hardline State response can result in a more violent market, postulating that criminals who are “risk-averse” might leave the market, but that those who are “risk- tolerant” stay in it.

“A more appropriate response is to engage consistently with the communities affected and to reach out to those kids and not to give up on them,” he said.

“Work with them in an intensive way, provide legitimate opportunities, to have any hope of getting them away.”

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