State authority challenged by murder of detective
Analysis:The shooting dead of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe in a botched robbery last Friday night is a traumatic blow to the Garda force and a strong challenge to the authority of the State. It is the first time a member has been shot dead since the murder of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare, Co Limerick, in June 1996. When he was killed, also by a gang trying to steal a consignment of cash, the State witnessed another watershed killing within weeks – that of the crime journalist Veronica Guerin.
Additional resources were provided for the fight against crime in the years that followed. The Criminal Assets Bureau was established to take assets from gangs before they grew so strong as to become untouchable. However, despite the additional Garda resources, the drugs trade exploded in the decade that followed. The economic boom put more disposable income into the pockets of recreational drug users.
Gang activity increased exponentially as young men saw millions of euro could be made from drugs. It spawned gang feuds from about 2000 in Limerick and parts of Dublin, in which between 10 and 15 people have been murdered as part of some disputes. This level of killing was unprecedented at any time before the last decade.
The economic collapse in Ireland has brought some respite. Demand for drugs has fallen since 2007-2008 as recreational users have seen their incomes hit hard. At the same time, the Garda has become better at successfully investigating fatal shootings and seizing multimillion-euro consignments of drugs.
Between 2007 and 2011 – the last year for which full crime statistics are available – the number of cases of discharging a firearm fell by 49 per cent and cases of possession of a firearm fell by 25 per cent. Drugs offences have dropped by 24 per cent since 2008 and, overall, serious crime is down by 13 per cent since its peak of 2008.
Despite Garda successes, though, one crime category has remained very resilient – fatal shootings. There is a still a subculture of criminals who use guns with alarming frequency and appear to do so much more often than their counterparts in Britain.
A study by Dr Liz Campbell of Aberdeen University in 2010 found that in 1998, gun killings in the Republic represented 7.8 per cent of all killings. In England and Wales that year, gun killings represented 7.2 per cent of killings.
By 2008, some 38.2 per cent of all killings in the State involved firearms – yet the rate in England and Wales had fallen to 6.8 per cent. The much higher level of gun killings here occurred despite the overall per capita homicide rate being only very marginally higher in Ireland. During the worst of the gun crime incidence rates around the middle of the last decade, just over 20 people were shot dead in some years. Despite the fall in crime, 19 people were shot dead last year.
The drugs trade, too, shows signs of bouncing back. When the full 2012 seizure figures become available, they will show total seizures well above €100 million. This would be a return to the figures seen in the boom years after a number of years in which seizures have been as low as €28 million.
Against this backdrop the resourcing of An Garda Síochána is being run down. Numbers in the force will be reduced by almost 500 to 13,000 by the end of the year – a condition of the EU-IMF bailout and off a peak of 14,400 just two years ago. Garda overtime, at €155 million in 2007, has been cut to nothing. More than 40 Garda stations were closed last year and 100 are closing at present, many of them in the past week.
No amount of manpower, Garda stations and overtime might have saved the life of Det Garda Donohoe last Friday, and it would be crass and disrespectful to speak of the life and death of a Garda, husband, father of two young children and respected colleague in those terms. But his murder and other recent serious crimes show the gun and drug criminals are proving dogged.
The Real IRA, especially in Dublin, has become very active and is involved in serious feuding with crime gangs as they try to extort money from them. The Garda needs to keep on top of this situation and the other gangs in the gun crime subculture. It takes a lot of money to respond to threats from emerging crime syndicates by placing surveillance on them and ploughing in resources to investigate the murders they carry out. If Garda budgets are cut to the bone, it is the gangs who will benefit. Once some grow powerful, it will take a decade to rein them in.
Given the success of the force in solving gun murders and the resources that will be thrown into the investigation, one can say with near certainty that the killers of Det Garda Donohoe will be caught.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter have said resources will not be spared in the hunt but the Garda needs resources on an ongoing basis, not just rhetoric and intensive resources when heinous crimes need to be solved and a horrified public demands results.
The Government needs to be very careful in reducing State spending to ensure that the overall fall in crime does not lead to any complacency about the extent and seriousness of gun crime. It is not the troika or the IMF who will face the long-term consequences.
* Conor Lally is Irish Times Crime Correspondent