Staring evil in the face and winning

Heavy weaponry and witness intimidation made Limerick’s gangs almost untouchable in the previous decade. Mid-West Correspondent Jimmy Woulfe speaks to the man who ended their reign of terror.

Staring evil in the face and winning

THE detective who has been to the fore in the fight against serious crime in Limerick for more than 30 years yesterday spoke of the days when feuding gangs were on the brink of taking over the city.

Detective Superintendent Jim Browne, speaking in an exclusive interview with the Irish Examiner, recalled the dark days of the early 2000s when Limerick gardaí faced “evil, volatile, and extremely dangerous” gang members who were intent on taking on the forces of law and order.

Det Supt Browne, who retires tomorrow, said: “President Bush once declared a war on evil and terror. We were dealing with a war on evil and urban terrorists who were equipped with all kinds of powerful paramilitary weaponry including hand grenades, AK 47s, semi-automatics. They said they had rocket launchers. The gardaí were the thin blue line between these people taking over the city. It was that serious.”

Det Supt Browne says he was involved in “many, many” murder inquiries.

Colleagues estimate it could be as many as 150 — with 19 murders carried out by feuding gangs.

Det Supt Browne, a native of Ballyviniter, Mallow, Co Cork, has also had to deal with personal intimidation, as one criminal family openly threatened him and his wife and children.

Sitting in his office at Henry St Garda Station, he goes through the names of the many dangerous men he and his colleagues had to contend with, and the cases that collapsed due to witness intimidation and withdrawal of statements.

“These were evil, volatile, and extremely dangerous men and they had a deliberate ploy to frustrate prosecutions.”

Det Supt Browne said the feud’s origins lay with turf wars over the drug trade.

“Once these criminals began to realise the huge profits that could me made from drugs, this led to competition and this competition led to conflict. The Keanes and the Collopys, were the first to exploit the drug trade in the city. They were delivering coal at that time, as well as dealing in drugs and claiming social welfare. This was before the Criminal Assets Bureau was set up in 1996. At that time they were assisted by Eddie Ryan [whom they later murdered in November 2000] who was their enforcer.

“The Kellys, led by [city alderman] Mikey Kelly in the late ’90s and early 2000s, were running a protection racket. The Criminal Asset Bureau assisted in putting them out of business.

“The Dundon brothers then came back to town from London. Their father Kenneth Dundon, a major criminal, left for London years previously where he married one of the McCarthys. The brothers came back with the intention of taking over not just Limerick but the entire Mid-West region.”

As the violence intensified, bloodshed and gun violence spiralled.

In 2007, at the height of the feud, one third of all shootings in the State were carried out in Limerick.

Det Supt Browne says: “We had murder, shootings, assaults, threats, arsons.”

Government concern resulted in swift action and significant additional armed resources were deployed.

“All the national units and the regional units based in Cork came to our assistance, because of the level of shootings.”

With extra resources, they gradually got to grips with the crimewave by systematically targeting the main feuding gangs, one by one, as they waged war.

“We couldn’t put our hands around all of them at the one time. We focussed on the most dangerous groupings and put them out of business, and then onto the next.”

The results have been stark. There has been no gangland murder in Limerick since 2010.

“There are very few unsolved gangland crimes here,” says Det Supt Browne.

“All the high-profile murders have been solved and the courts have been high in their praise for the high standards and professionalism of my colleagues. The city is like any normal city now.”

A key to their success has been the interaction of the city detective branches with victims of serious crime to build trust and keep victims informed on the progress of investigations.

This, says Det Supt Browne, encouraged more witnesses to come forward.

He praised the recent initiative of Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan, who opened victims offices in each garda division which helps in liaising with victims and reassuring them.

Over the Christmas period, teenagers connected to feuding families on the northside were involved in a number of shootings.

“These guys started acting up firing shots,” says Det Supt Browne. “We were able to get the assistance from within our own region, the Western Region and the South Eastern Regions, with multiple armed support unites being brought in to the city at short notice.”

Det Supt Browne says it is crucial that gardaí in Limerick continually look to how they respond to the changing crime environment.

Dealing promptly with a new generation of feuding family members is essential to keeping a lid on things.

“If new issues arise they are addressed straight away, rather than letting them get out of hand.

“If something starts cropping up resources are focussed immediately to deal with that.

“The criminals in Limerick are beginning to realise they will get away very little serious crime such as murder, or get away with very little gun crime and that they will serve lengthy sentences. And the bottom line it’s not good for profit.”

Read more of today’s news here

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.