Cormac O'Keeffe: Gang bosses see young operatives as ‘expendable’

Young people are seen as “plentiful and expendable” by gang bosses.

Cormac O'Keeffe: Gang bosses see young operatives as ‘expendable’

Young people are seen as “plentiful and expendable” by gang bosses.

These were the words of researchers after examining criminal networks in working class communities.

Those findings, published just a month ago, have been brought home in the most shocking way imaginable in the murder and dismemberment of 17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods.

Gardaí last night said that DNA tests had confirmed that the victim was Keane, from Drogheda, Co Louth.

Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan, divisional commander of Louth, said: “This is a brutal and savage attack on a child and is completely unacceptable in any normal democratic society. It is important to remember that Keane was a child, a young boy, trying to find his way in life, he has now lost his life and his family have lost their loved son and brother.”

As if the brutality inflicted on the juvenile was not unspeakable enough, the gang responsible decided to make it a public statement by dumping initial remains in a sports bag on the streets of a north Dublin community.

The discovery of those limbs in Moatview Gardens in Coolock, heaved pressure on a local community already reeling and silenced by a spate of gangland murders last year. Three of them involving young men, all aged 22, dealing at the street or mid-tier level.

In the early hours of Wednesday and responding to reports of a burning car on a laneway off Ballybough, in Dublin’s north inner city, gardaí recovered further remains, believed to be a head.

Gardaí are investigating suspected links to the vicious feud in Drogheda, which has also involved gang bosses in Coolock.

The reason behind the extreme violence on the juvenile is not yet clear.

Chief Mangan said it was an “absolutely horrific murder of a child” and that they were following a number of lines of inquiry as to possible motive.

Keane was suspected of carrying out acts of intimidation on drug users and their families to pay drug debts, including arson attacks on their homes.

Recently, he was convicted of intimidating the mother of a teenager who owed a drug debt to one of the feuding gangs.

He had smashed windows in the house, before throwing a petrol bomb into it.

A threat was made to abduct, kill and dismember him in the weeks before he went missing, at around 6pm last Sunday.

Garda sources said there were suspicions he may have been “running” with both of the feuding gangs and that one of them acted for this reason.

He may also have been targeted because he was linked, or related to, one of the gangs and was seen as an easy target by the other.

Garda sources said that either way this extreme act of violence was meted out to a juvenile.

“This type of violence is not completely unusual, but what is different is the age of the victim,” said one garda source.

Another source said the public element to the crime, in dumping the initial remains in a housing estate, appeared to have been done deliberately to send a message.

Keane Mulready-Woods. Pic via Garda Facebook page
Keane Mulready-Woods. Pic via Garda Facebook page

“It’s very sinister, very mafia-style,” the source said.

Another source said: “This is a new level for gangs. Even the Kinahan cartel didn’t do this symbolic stuff in their killings.” And the location the first disposal of remains, in Coolock, is not seen as accidental.

Several senior gang figures from the area have been linked with the feud, including a notorious, and extremely violent, hitman.

The Coolock man is suspected of carrying out the attempted assassination of gang figure Owen Maguire in July 2018, which ignited the feud and left the victim paralysed.

The second and most recent fatality in the Drogheda feud was Richie Carberry. Originally from Coolock, he was a close associate of the hitman and may have been killed in retaliation for the Maguire attack.

A particularly violent senior associate of Maguire is thought to be driving much of the violence. The property of this associate, in Gormanstown, Co Meath, was searched by gardaí overnight for the remains of the teenager.

It is thought that part of the original threat on the teenager was to deliver his remains to his associates, in Louth and Dublin.

As seen in Drogheda and elsewhere, particularly in Dublin, a certain percentage of young people in certain communities are being pulled into gang.

Factors include glamour, status and money, the involvement of friends and peers in the drugs trade or financial debts built up through drug use.

The warning of young people being “plentiful and expendable” for drug gangs was contained in the Building Community Resilience research published by Johnny Connolly last December.

The research was commissioned by four local policing forums covering Dublin’s southwest city.

It said children, as young as 10 and 11 were being groomed into criminal networks, operating as runners or couriers.

Dr Connolly found evidence of teenagers from 14 and 15 up directly involved in dealing.

One garda told him: “All the young boys are doing it ... the more organised boys at the top ... don’t care what happens to the young boys. They are, like, expendable, as they say.”

Another garda told researchers that younger teenagers look up to the local lieutenants and want their wealth.

“They just see the handy cash they get and the fancy clothes and they want to be like that,” the garda said.

Another garda said: “The head of the snake is always there where everyone else below is replaceable. There are always other younger people, always able to step up or enough of them and there are always people who want to join the gang”.

The research said there was a “widespread reluctance” of people in communities to talk to gardaí.

It said the networks maintain control through “fear and intimidation”, with one garda saying “local communities feel terrorised”.

A report commissioned by Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, published last April, made similar findings. Author Matt Bowden, found the intimidation and violence that drives local drug markets enables gang bosses to keep communities “insecure, fearful and subordinate”.

It said drug dealing was seen as a type of ‘work’ among young people who look at it as their way of securing “immediate access” to consumer goods and cited the lack of legal alternatives.

It said that while how much of the dealing involved networks of friends selling to friends, that violence “permeates” all levels of distribution.

“The violence appears to the participants in this research project to be indiscriminate and insatiable,” it said.

There appears to be little that will protect victims whether they are young men, young women or family members.

Also last month, the drugs task force in Blanchardstown, west Dublin, said that more children were dealing drugs and selling in secondary schools. It said children as young as 10, predominantly boys, were working as drug runners and dealers, with girls as young as 12 also getting roped in.

It said the trends were driven by drug debt intimidation, the “social status and easy money” from dealing, family involvement and general “normalisation” of drugs.

Dr Connolly’s research called for intensive intervention aimed at street dealers and local lieutenants and a rescue plan for the very young children being groomed into gangs.

The research backed up the key finding of the Policing Commission — for a massive restructuring of policing towards the needs, and safety, of communities.

Communities like Drogheda and Coolock.

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