Inside gangland: ‘People keep heads down and eyes closed such is the fear’

Fergus McCabe, chairman of Young People At Risk North Inner City (YPAR). Picture: Moya Nolan

It should not take slaughter on the streets for Government to take action in north inner city Dublin, where communities want far reaching policies and resources that can facilitate long-term change, writes Cormac O’Keeffe

THERE is, now, a threat to the “stability of the State”.

Not for the first time, the forces of law and order face a “fundamental crisis”.

Not the words of a hawk, but of a veteran community worker in Dublin’s north inner city who has been at the coalface of various crises going back 30 years.

“We cannot have a situation where a community lives in fear,” Fergus McCabe told the Irish Examiner this week, “where people are being killed, where people are witnessing it. That is a failure of the State.”

The threat posed by the Kinahan crime cartel comes against the background of a renewed crisis within the organisation tasked with tackling it.

That crisis threatens the functioning of the gardaí, an organisation that has been on the operating theatre undergoing surgery, without anaesthetic, for the last six years.

It has been haemorrhaging its very lifeblood, both in its ability to do its job — in terms of its staffing, training, experience, and morale — and its relationship with the outside world — in terms of its treatment of victims, its ‘circle the wagon’ culture and its very credibility.

It’s not the first time the State has been threatened by gangland.

It happened during the very dark days of 1996 and in the 2006 to 2009 period, when gangsters literally gave the State the two fingers and gangland murders reached a peak.

It must be sickening now for community leaders in the north inner city that it has taken slaughter on its streets for the Government of the day to sit up and promise action.

Four people in a square mile have been shot dead — one at his home, one on the street, one in a pub, and the most recent in a flats complex car park.

One of them, Martin O’Rourke, a 24-year-old homeless man, was shot dead in a botched attack targeting a member of the Hutch gang on Sheriff St.

Martin O’Rourke
Martin O’Rourke

He left behind three children, aged four, two, and 10 months. His fiancee, Angelina, is pregnant with their fourth.

Three members of the wider Hutch family have been shot dead — Garry last September in Spain, Eddie in Ballybough on February 5 and Gareth on North Cumberland St last Tuesday.

In all, seven people have been murdered in the Kinahan-Hutch feud — six at the hands of the Kinahan cartel.

Their campaign, it appears, is to wipe out as many as possible of the Hutch gang, including family members — the bulk of whom are not involved in crime.

“A criminal civil war” was how one detective described it this week, but “a very one-sided one”.

Local Social Democrat councillor Gary Gannon said it was an “extermination”.

And in a particularly sinister twist, the Kinahan cartel, based on the southside and abroad, are using local guns for hire in the north inner city “to shoot their neighbours”.

These criminals, though deadly, are reckless and sloppy and anyone — children, adolescents, the elderly — is liable to be caught up.

Mr McCabe, chairman of Young People At Risk North Inner City (YPAR), said: “Murderers are thumbing their noses at the State. This is a fundamental crisis we are facing.”

But community leaders in the north inner city, and in other working-class communities, have been highlighting interlinked issues for decades — with limited responses by successive governments.

The list is long, covering everything from education to jobs, from drug services to drug deaths, from health services to youth projects, from open drug dealing to the wealth of dealers, from young people and the drug trade to drug debts and intimidation.

Inside gangland: ‘People keep heads down and eyes closed such is the fear’

They have seen the partnership, built up since 1996, between the State and communities being dismantled.

They have seen political interest — and wider public interest, including that of most of the media — blow like the wind, only to be replaced by the dogma of austerity, which decimated community and youth projects and local health services.

As Sandra Mullen of Clondalkin Drugs Task Force told the Tonight with Vincent Browne show on Thursday night, the areas with the greatest need were the ones hardest hit.

For years, local groups have cried out for better policing, for local gardaí to build up relationships with young people and for a constant presence to reassure communities.

Some 2,500 gardaí have been taken out of the force, 140 in the north inner city alone, since 2010. That haemorrhage will take many years, if not decades, to reverse.

All the time the communities hardest hit suffer and suffer.

As Anna Quigley of the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign has repeatedly put it, local people “keep their heads down and their eyes closed”, such is the fear out there.

People feel abandoned.

Both she and Mr McCabe, and organisations such as the National Family Support Network, point out that the situation is far worse now than in the mid-1990s after the murder of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

Back then working class communities rose up and took to the streets and, in some cases, evicted dealers from their homes.

That cannot happen now.

Another veteran activist, Susan Collins of Addiction Response Crumlin has said that it’s not just individuals that are intimidated, but entire communities.

These communities need to be rebuilt, she said.

Only because bodies are piling up in the north inner city has the current Government promised action. The Taoiseach has said there will be a task force for the area.

But the local activists are no fools. They have been here many, many times before.

Mr McCabe said the “bane” of these bodies is that their reports just “gather dust”.

The Taoiseach’s words “can’t be just rhetoric”, he said.

“It has to be real and it has to be long term,” said Mr McCabe.

“The issue is not what can’t be done, the issue is what can be implemented.”

The credibility of the Taoiseach, the Government and the State is on the line.

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