Brutal Dublin murder dominates the campaign trail

As expected, the brutal murder of Dublin taxi-driver and sometime criminal Eddie Hutch at his Ballybough home on Monday brought law and order on to centre stage of this general election campaign, writes Daniel McConnell

Brutal Dublin murder dominates the campaign trail

We had wholesale condemnation from political leaders over the savage nature of the attack, which came just four days after the murder of David Byrne at the nearby Regency Hotel in Whitehall.

But yesterday, we also saw the announcement by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald of €5m in additional funding for An Garda Síochána and a new permanent armed unit for Dublin.

Just 24 hours previously, and just a few short hours before Hutch’s death, she argued that the Government has invested substantially in the force, deflecting criticism that she and her predecessor, Alan Shatter, starved it of resources.

While many people will welcome the additional funding for gardaí in tackling the scourge of organised crime, the announcement frankly smacks of panic and electioneering.

The double killing in Dublin has raised fears that an all-out gangland war is now under way and that further hits are likely.

Fitzgerald herself raised such fears in a statement reacting to Hutch’s murder.

“This fatal shooting in Dublin is another deplorable example of the ruthlessness of gangland criminals. It seems that some gangs are intent on waging a feud where human life counts for nothing,” she said.

“The gardaí will take all necessary steps to try to prevent further bloodshed but we have to recognise the challenges they face. Members of gangs who have fears for their safety should come forward to the gardaí.”

The killings have put the spotlight on the issue of Garda station closures and the resourcing of officers on the beat by Fine Gael, which prides itself on being the party of law and order.

The failure to bring the killers of Garda Adrian Donohoe to justice in the three years since his death is the major black mark against Fitzgerald and the force.

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Senior Fine Gael figures, speaking to me yesterday, feel they are happy enough that the debate is centred on justice, as they feel the party can only stand to win.

Hence, the swift rollout of the plan by Fitzgerald and Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, who has also taken flack over the two murders. The plan involves the establishment of a permanent armed response unit in the Dublin area.

Fitzgerald and O’Sullivan discussed the eruption of gangland warfare in the capital at the Department of Justice during a meeting that lasted for two hours.

“We will stand down this threat from these gangs and the Garda will have every resource that they need in order to have the kind of armed response that is necessary and the kind of saturation policing that we need to see,” Fitzgerald told reporters.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin launched its manifesto for government yesterday, an announcement that was overshadowed by the party’s call to abolish the non-jury Special Criminal Court.

The court is used to try cases linked to organised crime and terrorism. Those arguing for its retention say jurors in such trials would be wide open to intimidation.

The party’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, argued yesterday that its presence is a denial of citizen’s rights to a trial before a jury of one’s peers.

Obviously, the looming sentencing of “good republican” Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy is colouring the debate around the Sinn Féin position.

When cornered by Brian Hayes, Fine Gael’s director of elections, on this issue on Sunday, McDonald reaffirmed her statement that Murphy is a good republican. She also lashed out at Hayes, calling him a “gurrier”.

The Murphy case and the call to abolish the Special Criminal Court is damaging to Sinn Féin, its political opponents would have you believe.

The most interesting part of yesterday was the opening of a door by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to some sort of an arrangement with Fine Gael.

Just five days ago, the party was adamant that no arrangement would ever happen. “We want Enda Kenny out,” said the party’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath.

Yesterday, Martin moved ever so slightly in his language, hinting that nothing can be determined until after the votes are cast.

His shift in position has been noted by those on high in Fine Gael and while there is an increasing body of opinion within the party that such a deal should happen, a formal coalition still seems unlikely.

That would mean Fianna Fáil would be prepared to support a minority Fine Gael government from the opposition benches, if even for 18 months or so.

“We will behave responsibly in the national interest,” Martin told RTÉ radio.

It is very much a case of watching this space.

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