The timing could not have been better to document the Gardaí’s success against organised crime.
Yesterday’s briefing on the matter by the force’s top brass, led by commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, came on the back of a dizzying array of blows against gangland, in particular, the dominant overlord: The Kinahan cartel.
There was the seizure of 1.8 tonnes of cannabis herb with a street value of €37m, at Dublin Port on Friday last.
Four days later, a massive arms cache linked to the cartel was uncovered in west Dublin. The arsenal included a submachine gun, an assault rifle, and silencers. Many of the weapons were loaded. Gardaí said an attack was “imminent” and that they had saved lives.
Last Saturday, the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau raided a house in Sallins, Kildare, and uncovered 30kg of heroin and cocaine, along with another assault rifle.
On Tuesday night, the bureau uncovered 160kg of cannabis herb (street value of €3.2m) in Co Meath.
What topped it off was that which was about to happen in the courts, where John Gilligan finally, after countless battles with the State, lost his Supreme Court appeal against the Criminal Assets Bureau, who were given the green light to take his last three properties.
The briefing on organised crime had been pencilled in to coincide with the run-up to the first anniversary of the Regency Hotel attack, on February 5, 2016.
That event was a brutal landmark in gangland in Ireland, not unlike the savage murder of journalist Veronica Guerin by the Gilligan gang 20 years previously.
Like that attack in 1996, the military-style assault on the Regency was a threat to the security of the State.
That assault by SWAT-style gunmen, brandishing assault rifles, unleashed a murderous campaign of retribution by the Kinahan cartel. It was unprecedented in Ireland, with the assassination of eight people, seven in Ireland and one in Spain.
The assault threw down a gauntlet to the Gardaí, amid claims it reflected a failure of the force’s intelligence.
Yesterday, the commissioner argued, with much justification, that the force had met that challenge.
“This time last year, we spoke about the events, post the Regency [attack],” she said. “We said at the time it was going to take time, money, and resources to really tackle organised crime.”
Overtime budgets funded Operation Hybrid: High-visibility armed checkpoints and patrols in affected areas. The Special Crime Task Force, targeting lower levels of feuding gangs, was set up, while the bureau continued its hunt for the main players. Both were assisted by CAB.
Surveillance and intelligence-led operations seized weapons and drugs, while the murder investigations were given the space and resources to find the killers.
The commissioner said that €23m worth of drugs were seized in 2016 and more than €44m already this year.
Deputy Commissioner John Twomey listed the successes: 22,000 armed checkpoints; 2,000 armed patrols; 456 firearms seized, including 36 high-powered weaponry such as submachine guns and assault rifles; €3.8m in bank accounts frozen; €2.2m recovered in taxes; €2.2m cash seized and 93 high-powered vehicles confiscated.
In addition, eight people have been charged in relation to the Kinahan-Hutch feud murders and more charges are expected.
With the Regency Hotel attack anniversary approaching, Ms O’Sullivan said there were individuals “determined on retribution”.
She said the Regency attack had been described as ‘a spectacular’, adding: “It was a spectacular. It was an elaborate murder, but that’s what it is: Murder.”
Asked was she embarrassed that gardaí were not at the Regency, she replied: “No, the gardaí can’t be everywhere all the time and the Regency is a good example of where criminals take each other by surprise.”
Amid all the successes, these are the sobering realities: Gardaí cannot be on every street corner and criminals don’t advertise their actions beforehand.
The Gilligan case underlines the reality of tackling organised crime.
Yet, when gardaí were given the resources, they dismantled the Gilligan network. Multiple prosecutions, often troubled affairs, did result and, 20 years on, the State has deprived him of the last of his ill-gotten assets.
“Our determination is to dismantle, disrupt, and bring to justice all organised criminal groupings,” said the commissioner.
“We are realists. That takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and it takes a lot of persistence and determination.”