Fear stalks the streets triggered by crime gang feuds

IN the last eight days, two men have been gunned down and two more have been left counting their lucky stars they are still alive.

Sandwiched in between was another near-tragedy when suspected dissident republicans opened fire on anti-terrorist gardaí.

These gun attacks came just 11 days after two brothers sitting in a car were riddled with bullets as children played in the evening sun.

Highlighting the deep impact of gang crime, two teenagers – aged just 15 and 16 years – were arrested by gardaí investigating the most recent murder, last Tuesday, of Stephen Byrne.

The 32-year-old was gunned down on a street corner in Dublin’s north-east inner city in broad daylight by a young man, who approached him, and fled, on a bicycle.

His murder – the fifth in a local gang feud – brought to 17 the number of fatal shootings so far this year, 13 of them gangland-related.

Based on this trend, we could be looking at 22-24 gangland murders by the year’s end. There were 20 gangland murders in 2009, 14 in 2008, 16 in 2007, 21 in 2006 and 19 in 2005.

Speaking after Byrne’s murder, Fine Gael’s justice spokesman, Alan Shatter, laid the blame squarely at the door of the Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern.

“Minister Ahern has failed to take the necessary action to end the ongoing campaign of murder and mayhem being conducted by drug gangs on the streets of Dublin,” said the opposition TD.

This north inner-city feud has already claimed two cousins of Stephen’s. He himself killed another feud victim, Stephen Ledden, in December 2006. His death is thought to have been in retaliation for that.

A feud of a more domestic kind led to the murder of Colm Owens in Finglas, north Dublin, on Friday, July 9.

He was shot eight times, apparently in a row with his extended family. While not gangland-related, the gun used in his attack was also used in the gangland murder of Jason Egan in Mulhuddart, west Dublin, last October.

He was killed by former members of the Provisional IRA in retaliation for the shooting dead of Wayne Doherty in July 2009.

A gang feud also claimed the lives of brothers Paul and Kenneth Corbally in Ronanstown, west Dublin on June 28. The brothers, from nearby Ballyfermot, were part of a drug and armed robbery gang that was feuding with a local gang.

The boss of the rival outfit is suspected of hiring a two-man hit squad, which riddled a car the brothers were sitting in with bullets in full view of children playing on Neilstown Avenue.

And a Traveller feud in Finglas is blamed for an attempted double murder in the area last Thursday. The two victims were injured, but escaped with their lives, when a gunman, posing as a council worker, opened fire.

The impact of these gang feuds is replicated across Dublin and Limerick, in particular. Nine of the gang murders this year have been in Dublin, with two in Limerick. Cork and Louth have had one each.

Limerick came close to having a third gang murder, when Daniel Philips was shot in the head in the city last May. He is still clinging to life. There have been at least three other attempted gun murders in Limerick, where the targets were injured. In two other cases, gardaí intercepted hit-squads, one of them armed with an Uzi machine gun.

Underlining the availability of serious firepower, the Irish Examiner reported on Thursday that Irish gangs could acquire AK-47 assault rifles and rocket launchers for between €300 and €700.

The highly armed gangs are also posing a threat to gardaí. Last Saturday, members of the Special Detective Unit were shot at as they pursued, and arrested, dissident republicans in Co Louth. Last May, when intercepting a suspected hit-team in Limerick a garda was seriously injured in forcing a car carrying the gunmen to stop.

But not all news about gangland in the last week was without hope. A Prime Time documentary showed the example set by one extraordinary citizen, Steve Collins.

While leaving the viewer utterly saddened and angry at the devastation wrought on Steve and Carmel Collins by the McCarthy-Dundon gang, we also saw one man standing up to the gangs.

Their son, Roy Collins, was gunned down in April 2009 because he was a cousin of Ryan Lee, whose evidence led to the jailing of gang leader Wayne Dundon.

Steve Collins spoke of how he had a €75,000 contract on his head. Viewers saw him putting on his bullet-proof jacket every morning and constantly surrounded by armed gardaí, while a shattered Carmel is a virtual prisoner in her own home.

But that has not stopped Steve taking the battle against the gangs, literally, to the street.

This played a part in the introduction of strong anti-gang legislation last year, which may yet have a key role in squeezing gangs.

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