Decline in organised crime confirms recession has been bad for business

Thu, Aug 23, 2012, 01:00

Ireland’s recession has coincided with plummeting gun crime and a collapse in the drug trade that has left criminal gangs under financial pressure, writes CONOR LALLY, Crime Correspondent

IF TWO events book-end the boom-to-bust cycle of organised crime in Ireland, they are the murders of gang leaders Martin Hyland, from Cabra on Dublin’s north side, and his successor, Eamon Dunne, from nearby Finglas.

At the time of his murder in December 2006, 39-year-old Hyland’s name had become a byword for big-league organised crime. He was the leader of one of Ireland’s biggest drugs gangs, based in Finglas.

Not content with flooding Dublin with heroin, cocaine and cannabis, his cartel also sold drugs to smaller gangs in the city and to those outside the capital. He also helped those groupings plan major armed robberies.

The resulting media and Garda attention became so intense that in the last year of his life drugs with an estimated street value of €15 million were seized from his henchmen. About 30 of them were arrested and charged under Operation Oak, established in 2005 to bring Hyland down.

His lieutenants quickly came to view him as a liability and decided to shoot him dead. On a December morning in 2006 a gunman unloaded a handgun into his head and body as he lay sleeping, face down in bed, in his niece’s house at Scribblestown Park in Finglas (a young plumber working in the house, Anthony Campbell, 20, was shot dead by the killers in case he was able to identify them).

Into the power vacuum stepped Hyland’s chief lieutenant, Eamon Dunne.

Fast-forward 40 months to April 2010: Dunne, by now aged 34, has presided over the bloodiest reign of any gang leader in the history of Irish organised crime, ordering a dozen gun murders. His life ended with him face down in a pool of beer and blood on the floor of the Faussagh House pub in Cabra.

An Irish-led international drug cartel based in southern Spain had become concerned that the killing spree Dunne was directing was drawing too much Garda attention upon crime gangs in Dublin, the city for which it was the main drug wholesaler.

After Dunne was killed, there was no scramble for the Finglas throne. Since Hyland’s murder, the drug trade had peaked and crashed.

That slide has continued inexorably ever since.

The drug trade boomed in parallel with the economy as demand increased in line with disposable incomes. In 2006, gardaí seized €77.92 million worth of drugs, the most seized in any year of the boom until that point.

The number of controlled drug offences recorded in 2006 was 14,232, a record, representing an increase of 45 per cent in just two years.

In the first two years of Dunne’s reign, the drug trade went into orbit nationally, with the value of drugs seized by the Garda moving upwards of €100 million. The number of controlled drug offences peaked in 2008 at 23,405.

Gun crime peaked in 2007, when a combined total of 750 cases of discharging of a firearm and possession of a firearm were recorded.

But the drug trade was not immune to the recession. The value of drugs seized by the Garda fell to €42 million and €28 million in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Since 2007, the number of cases of discharging a firearm has fallen 49 per cent. The number of cases of possession of a firearm has fallen 25 per cent.

Gangland feuds in places such as Limerick city and parts of Dublin such as Crumlin, Finglas, Drimnagh, Blanchardstown and Coolock have also eased. These disputes, with the exception of the main feud in Coolock, claimed between 12 and 15 lives each in the decade from 2000, an unprecedented death toll.

However, since the beginning of the present decade those feuds have claimed no lives. This year there have been no gang-related fatal shootings since March, a situation far removed from when the annual total for gun homicides exceeded 20 on a number of occasions.

Sources within An Garda Síochána say that while a number of factors are keeping gangland crime at bay the recession appears to be the most significant.

Drug addicts will always find the money for drugs, irrespective of economic conditions, but they account for only a small fraction of the overall drug market.

The bigger earner for drug gangs during the boom was in supplying the much larger recreational market.

One Garda source said: “In the same way people have cut back on having a few beers or eating out, the people who were taking cocaine have stopped because it’s very expensive and they just don’t have the money now.”

The contracting trade in drugs has resulted in cash flow problems for gangs, as they can no longer generate the large sums of money required to source shipments of drugs abroad that cost millions of euro. This has led to a slowdown in supply as well as in demand.

UCD professor of criminology Ian O’Donnell believes once the financial incentives decline so also does the willingness of those involved in the drug trade to risk being caught and jailed, or to become involved in gang feuds.

Criminologist Paul O’Mahony believes the media attention on gangs over the past decade helped build reputations based on fear.

“There was a self-perpetuating myth about the whole [gangland] thing. So maybe the steam has gone out of that because the recession has drawn the media’s attention away from that huge interest in gangland crime to matters to do with the economy.”

Others believe 16 years’ attention from the Criminal Assets Bureau has stunted the growth of many gangs and that anti-gang legislation introduced by the last government has driven many criminals abroad.

“A lot of these guys also put money into property both in Ireland and abroad, and that’s all gone down the tubes now,” said a Garda source.

“It terms of the feuds, sometimes these things go in a cycle. You can get a combination of the wrong personalities on different sides of a row, fellas who are very headstrong, very violent, and they might be clever and also feared, so they have real influence [over weaker gang members].

“The gang scene is a small enough world, no matter what the media might say.

“And one or two strong characters leading gangs can really influence it. In Limerick and Dublin loads of these guys are now locked up or they’ve been shot dead. That dampens it down for a while.”