Cormac O’Keeffe

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Dark days ahead for communities, the gardaí, and now the fourth estate

As the Kinahan-Hutch feud rages, gangland intimidation and violence will get worse, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

Dark days ahead for communities, the gardaí, and now the fourth estate

THE sinister threat to two crime reporters is part of a menacing culture of gang intimid- ation plaguing certain communities.

It’s a culture local drug workers, and some gardaí, say has only worsened, as the next generation of criminals resort to ever more extreme levels of violence to climb to the top and stay there.

The revelation on Thursday by Independent News and Media (INM) that a number of its journalists had received threats from organised crime gangs comes as we approach the 20th anniversary of the murder of Sunday Independent investigative journalist Veronica Guerin.

Ms Guerin — a mother to a seven-year-old boy at the time — was shot dead on June 26, 1996, on the Naas Road by members of the John Gilligan crime gang.

That seminal attack resulted in a mammoth Garda investigation, which, in time, saw the Gilligan gang being dismantled, one member, Brian Meehan, convicted of murder, and Gilligan himself getting a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking.

It led to radical changes to criminal justice laws, including Proceeds of Crime legislation and the setting up of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The summer of 1996 was one of the most turbulent in the country’s recent history, with the horrific killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe by the IRA and the street mobilisation of beleaguered and angry communities against drug gangs.

There have been dark times since, most notably during the mid to late 2000s, when gangland murders reached a height, due in no small part to the Limerick feud and the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud.

Numerous innocent citizens were gunned down in that period, including Donna Cleary, Baiba Saulite, and Anthony Campbell in 2006, Shane Geoghegan and Mariora Rostas in 2008, and Roy Collins in 2009.

Not only were completely innocent bystanders at risk, so too were gardaí: Garda Paul Sherlock who was shot, but survived, on the North Strand, in Dublin’s north inner city, in September 2007 and Sergeant Mark Clarke, who was shot, but survived, in Crumlin, south Dublin, in February 2008.

Many other gardaí, including those tackling the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, had deaths threats made against them.

Solicitor Jim Brooks’s letter to ‘Irish Examiner’ editor Tim Vaughan yesterday.
Solicitor Jim Brooks’s letter to ‘Irish Examiner’ editor Tim Vaughan yesterday.

While the Limerick and Crumlin-Drimnagh feuds petered away after 2010 — in large part due to success of gardaí in securing convictions — intimidation of communities by gangs had reached new levels.

No longer were small drug debts dealt with by a beating and no longer with parents largely protected from intimidation.

“Now if you owe money, you’re dumped into the back of a lorry and brought up the mountains or your mother is threatened to pay up or your sister is forced to go on the game,” said one community worker, who wished to remain anonymous.

“It is progressively getting more and more violent and more and more extreme. The new generation want to be more violent than the last and more powerful.”

To him, a worker in the Crumlin-Drimnagh-south inner city area, these criminals are not bluffing when they threaten to kill anyone, including a journalist. “I don’t think they would have a problem targeting a journalist. It would be a status thing to them. Their way of climbing the ladder in a gang.”

He added: “Really it’s part of the drug-related intimidation that communities like this have already been suffering for years. It’s just now it has been extended to journalists.”

A garda in the same area agreed: “These guys don’t give a fuck who you are. The idea that because you’re a journalist you are outside their reach, that they won’t go there, that’s not the reality. The same applies if you’re a politician or a garda — as we know too well.”

In 2013, Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe was shot dead at the hands of a border gang in Louth, and, last October, Garda Tony Golden was shot by a known criminal, again in Louth.

“It’s all about power, prestige, and position,” the community worker said referring to the gang bosses. And with the Kinahan-Hutch feud he predicts the intimidation and violence will get worse.

“What’s going on now is that they are really putting it up to each other, as in ‘how far are you going to go?’

“The fact that [Kinahan gang] went into the middle of Hutch territory [in the north inner city], with the place crawling with gardaí, and took out a member of the Hutch family, the northsiders are thinking ‘we’re going to go to your patch and make an example of you’.”

He added: “Neither of the gangs are going to back down.

“They can’t be seen to loose face. If you do, you’re weak and you’re time is up. That mentality is ingrained on them from early on.

The ante has been upped and it’s going to get more vicious. We’re all sure something is going to happen, we’re just not sure where, or when.”

Seasoned observers fear there are dark times ahead: For communities, for gardaí and, now, the fourth estate.

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