Hiring hit men: gunmen and gangland
THE EVENTS of recent weeks have shown that Ireland has no shortage of gunmen. After a lull in gangland shootings over the past couple of years, there has been a cluster of attacks.
Last month four men were shot dead: three in Dublin and one in Co Laois. A 16-year-old schoolboy nearly became the Republic’s latest gun victim in Crumlin, in south Dublin, on Tuesday night. A gunman opened fire on a man the schoolboy was standing beside, but he sprayed the wrong person with the pellets from two shotgun blasts.
Organised crime is at the centre of almost every shooting in the Republic. But last weekend the Independent TD for Wexford, Mick Wallace, showed that apparently ordinary people who do not belong to the underworld can consider imposing their will via a gun, or at least by threat of it.
Wallace told Marian Finucane on RTÉ Radio 1 that he had once met a debt collector who used a gun, and said he was tempted to use him to recover a €20,000 debt, of which €4,000 would be paid to the hired gunman.
The comments offered an honest insight into the mind of a businessman struggling to get paid for work done. But do many ordinary people take such desperate measures? And are there contract gunmen ready to pull the trigger?
“In a lot of areas guys would be known to be involved in a gang,” says one Garda source. “Even the respectable people from an area can tell you the gossip about who is supposed to have done what shooting. So if you know of a person who has access to a gun and you really wanted somebody threatened, to frighten them, you wouldn’t have to be a genius to approach them quietly. All they can say is no. They’re not exactly going to report it [to the Garda] if they’re up to their necks in it themselves.” Other sources disagree. “Most people wouldn’t have a breeze how to get a bag of cocaine, never mind sort out a paid gunman,” says one.
ON TUESDAY the disastrous consequences of hiring violent men became clear. The family of Terence Madden, a BB owner who was “ruthlessly and gratuitously” shot dead in a contract attack outside his home, was awarded almost €750,000 in damages by the High Court. The bulk of the money was awarded to his widow, Margaret Madden. The 52-year-old father of three died in 1999 after being shot. Michael Doohan, Madden’s neighbour, who operated a rival BB in Monasteraden, Co Sligo, hired three men to attack him. A fee of €600 was paid upfront with €900 to follow after Madden was attacked.
But, for the most part, the hiring of gunmen is an activity confined to gangland. Another more recent incident offers an insight into how the world of contract gun killings works.
In April Wayne Dundon, a Limerick criminal, was jailed for six years, and his brother John for five and a half, for threatening members of the Collins family in the city. A dispute between their brother Gerard and his partner, April Collins, led to an attack on the Collins house in September 2010 by four women, one of whom was John Dundon’s wife, Ciara.
In an effort to prevent the Collins family pursuing a criminal case against his sister-in-law, Wayne Dundon threatened to kill April Collins, as well as her mother, Alice Collins, and her brothers Gareth and Jimmy. Alice Collins later said that Wayne Dundon asked her whether Jimmy went to a certain pub every weekend before telling her John Dundon would “give some fool 10 grand” to kill Jimmy. “It’s the quiet fellas who get it,” he suggested. “You’re digging your own grave; it’s very easy to make people disappear.”
There are other recent cases in which gardaí believe money has changed hands for gun murders. In August 2010 a group of gangland criminals worked together to shoot dead Daniel Gaynor in Finglas, in north Dublin, because he had worked as a killer for the Real IRA.
Gaynor had shot dead Colm Owens, who was 34, in Finglas in July 2010 because Owens was associated with the main drugs gang in Finglas, from which the Real IRA was trying to extort money. In Tallaght in 2008, Gaynor shot a 21-year-old painter and decorator, Robert Delaney, leaving him in a permanent vegetative state, after Delaney became involved in a personal dispute with a republican.
Gardaí believe that Gaynor carried out those shootings, and others, purely for payment and that he was not a member of the Real IRA.
Gardaí say gangs’ hiring of gunmen, instead of finding shooters within their own ranks, has many benefits for the gangs. “If a suspect emerges and he has been paid to do the killing rather than having a motive himself, you can’t necessarily link him to the victim or link him to any one gang,” says one source.
“The motive is more or less hidden, and it can take a lot of work to piece together the fact that the guy was hired, who hired him, and why. And if you know a guy has done it before a number of times and got away with it, that would be attractive too.”
Other sources say even if the gunman is caught he is unlikely to inform on those who paid him. “If he’s shooting people for money then the chances are he’s from that world where the golden rule is, no matter what happens, you never talk [to the gardaí]. You never rat, as they say. And if you do you can be killed yourself. Even if you go to jail, you can be got in there or they can get your family on the outside.”
Debt threats: Light touch for the heavies?
The letter Martin Sweeney received from Viper Debt Recovery and Repossession Services at his home in south Dublin last month was the latest incident in what he says is a long-running chain of events to do with a disputed large debt.
The letter was signed by Martin Foley, the owner of the agency. He is a former member of the Martin Cahill gang and has survived five attempts on his life. He has convictions for assault, robbery and possession of threatening weapons. The agency name reflects the name the media uses for Foley: the Viper.
The letter was delivered by somebody working for him. It stated that his agency had been appointed by a builder, Daniel Lannon, to seek almost €250,000 that Lannon, of Burnell Square, Malahide Road, north Dublin, claims Sweeney owes him.
The dispute arises from work Lannon says he did in August 2008 and April 2009 at two Dublin properties Sweeney owns.
On October 5th Sweeney went to the High Court, which made interim orders that restrained Lannon from harassing or contacting Sweeney or his family, or trespassing on Sweeney’s property at Woodley Park, Stillorgan, Dublin. They also restrained Lannon or his agents from watching or besetting Sweeney’s home or his children’s school.
The orders were granted after Sweeney’s legal team set out a series of allegations surrounding what it claims were Lannon’s efforts to collect the disputed funds before he hired Foley.
Sweeney, who denies he owes Lannon money, claimed that Lannon had sent him text messages accusing him of lying and stealing, made phone calls to his home, place of work and children’s school, and called to his home.
It was claimed in court that on another occasion Lannon rang Sweeney saying he was at Sweeney’s children’s school. Sweeney further claimed that his wife phoned him shortly after that to say someone called Lannon had called the school, spoken to the principal and asked that his name and number be given to Mrs Sweeney.
None of the allegations has been tested, but the case offers an insight into some of the difficulties that can arise in disputes about the increasing problem of disputed or unpaid debts.
Last year there were almost 22,000 cases for breach of contract and recovery of debt in the Circuit Court, a 21 per cent increase on 2010 and 50 per cent of all civil claims. There were 3,783 judgments for debt recovery in the High Court, an increase of 35 per cent, and a 38 per cent increase in execution of debt orders in that court, a total of 4,443.
The involvement of a feared criminal such as Martin Foley in debt collection might be regarded as sinister by some, but he and those who hire him are operating legally, albeit in a field controlled by what could only be described as light-touch regulation.
The Private Security Authority is charged with vetting and monitoring people working in and seeking to enter the security sector and, when required, prosecuting those found in breach of the legislation. And the Garda vetting unit must sign off on the suitability of those seeking to work with children.
There are no similar systems for debt collectors, but the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 gives consumers some protection against inappropriate methods of collecting payments.
Under section 11 of the Act it is an offence to demand payment of a debt in a way designed to alarm, distress or humiliate. Conviction for such an offence carries up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
The Central Bank has also imposed requirements that protect consumers under its revised Consumer Protection Code, although that applies only to financial institutions that outsource debt collection. The code obliges them not to exert undue pressure or undue influence on a customer; to act honestly, fairly and professionally in the best interests of customers; and to act with due skill, care and diligence in the best interest of its customers. Personal visits or oral communications are prohibited except in specified circumstances.
Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, has been lobbying for tighter controls on-debt collection and debt-management agencies. He believes anyone seeking to establish themselves as debt-collection companies or agents should have to apply through a system of vetting, registering and monitoring similar to the Private Security Authority. “We can’t allow a situation where people with criminal records can knock on doors and collect debts where there might be a question of even perceived intimidation.”