The ripples from this latest gun killing have shivered across society. Once more, there is a sense of panic. Where will it all end? Do these thugs have free rein to murder at will, asks Michael Clifford
The CCTV footage is chilling. Gareth Hutch walks to his car on a sunny May morning last Tuesday. He opens the back door and drops his jacket onto the back seat. As he bends to open the driver’s door, two men dart into the picture. Hutch is unaware of their presence. This is not TV, this is real life, a man’s last moments in this world.
The men advance and shoot their target. Gareth Hutch drops to the ground.
Did anything flash across his mind as he drew his last breaths? He was 35; the father of a seven-year-old. He had on his mobile phone the number of the garda’s Emergency Response Unit, which theoretically could be deployed within minutes to save his life. It was too late for all that.
Too late to change plans, too late for regrets, too late for dreaming of how his son might reach into adulthood. Gareth Hutch died in the prime of his life, in the community where he had grown up, violently cut down in a feud that can be traced back to the vast quantities of money to be made in selling drugs.
Mr Hutch was no angel. He had been charged and acquitted over an armed robbery in which a man died some years ago. There are suspicions that he had a minor role in the Regency Hotel murder of David Byrne last February. But he wasn’t a hardened criminal. He wasn’t drawn from the ranks of those serious players who measure their status according to the moniker ascribed to them by the tabloid press. His crimes and misdemeanors were not of an order that implied his death was a form of natural justice.
The ripples from this latest gun killing have shivered across society. Once more, there is a sense of panic. Where will it all end? Do these thugs have free rein to murder at will?
Each time there is an outrage like this, the reaction is the same. There is fear and indignation that our streets are, allegedly, no longer safe. The fear emanates from the community most directly affected. People are literally in fear of venturing outside their homes, frequenting the local pub, as if they were occupying a war zone where a stray bullet can randomly snuff out a life.
The indignation comes from wider society. It offends a sense of order that people can kill at will in this manner in a country that in some ways retains the tight bonds of small communities despite major urbanisation in recent decades.
There are some crucial differences in the current feud. The principals in the Kinahan gang are based in Spain. Christy Kinahan and his two sons are reputed to have amassed a fortune north of half a billion euro. They can issue contracts to murder like sprinkling confetti.
More importantly from their point of view, they are largely beyond the reach of the law in this country. The Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, is restricted in moving against the gang’s assets, and the force at large is confined in how it can react.
The murderous feud in Limerick which persisted for the guts of a decade was largely quelled by excellent police work, which included surveillance, disruption, and constant monitoring of the principals involved. Today, most of those intent on murder in that feud are either in prison, or have retreated from confrontation. Such an approach is nigh on impossible when the main instigator is exiled on the Costa Del Sol, where the local police have more pressing issues than helping make the streets of inner-city Dublin safe.
As a result, a different approach will be required to quell this feud, including plenty more resources judiciously applied.
While the specifics of this feud are concerned with security, there are also aspects to it that reflect on how the country was managed through the years of the recent recession.
Much has been made of the lack of foresight of the gardaí for what is unfolding. On this, many within the force point to the depletion of resources through the years of austerity. In the inner city garda division, the number of officers is down by 140 over the last five years.
Schemes to entice early retirement from more experienced public servants, including middle ranking gardaí, meant that corporate intelligence was lost.
More crucially, specialist work such as surveillance was cut back, ensuring that routine intelligence was no longer being compiled. A ban on overtime meant the painstaking work designed to achieve longer-term results was no longer being undertaken.
There was a short-term, politically expedient logic to this stuff. During the recession, rates of serious crime fell in line with the market for drugs. The Government obviously saw potential for savings here, and applied the knife.
The knife was also applied in the community and voluntary sector, which, in disadvantaged communities, plays a vital role. This sector suffered cuts ranging from 30% to 70%, according to various reports. The result was that the kind of programmes that are used to divert youth from drugs and crime could no longer fulfil that role. During what was regarded as an emergency, the powers-that-be considered such cuts to be more palatable because they attracted less political heat.
Youth diversion is all about achieving results that are visible over the medium term, and are not easily quantifiable. The strategy during the recession was to cut where most expedient, where immediate savings could be made.
Another case in point was the closure of Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station, in the heart of the inner city. In recent years, it was the closure of rural garda stations, most of which had been manned for only a few hours a day, which generated political controversy. There was a far greater case to retain Fitzgibbon Street, but it wasn’t reinforced with commensurate political support. Now the tide has gone out on the recession and the results of the years of austerity are making themselves known. A gun feud opens up and the gardaí are unprepared and under-resourced.
In the community, the demand for drugs has increased in response to the squeezing of any opportunities of a life more lived. Such an environment provides rich pickings for exiled criminals to find somebody willing to wield a gun and settle scores for a few thousands euro or in lieu of a drug debt.
As might be expected, the reaction from Government and the wider political class is to beef up the gardaí, throw more resources at the immediate security threat.
What is missing is an acknowledgement that disadvantaged communities like the north inner city of Dublin have borne more than their fair share of the pain during the recession. A proper response would be to immediately begin addressing the longer-term problems that will fester in the absence of proper services where they are most needed.
If past form is anything to go by, we’ll be waiting a long time for that level of reaction until the problems begin to surface again.
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