It emerged late last month that a long-running Garda investigation into the top tier figures in the Kinahan cartel had been completed, with a file sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and senior officers optimistic that charges would follow.
That revelation, published in The Irish Times, provided further evidence of the relentlessness drive against the group by the Irish authorities.
An Garda Síochána and its international counterparts – most notably the Americans and British – are running significant investigations into the cartel leaders, having moved on from targeting their underlings.
In the Republic, more than 60 men aligned to the cartel have been jailed in recent years as part of a crackdown into the Kinahan-Hutch feud. In Britain, Dublin criminal Thomas “Bomber” Kavanagh (55) is serving a 21-year sentence for his role in importing Kinahan drugs, valued at about €36 million, into the UK. His brother-in-law, Liam Byrne (42), is also in custody at present and will soon go on trial in the UK – alongside Kavanagh – on firearms charges related to the cartel.
The current status of Kavanagh and Byrne – who ran Kinahan operations in Britain and Ireland – coupled with the sheer number of cartel-aligned figures jailed in Ireland is a scenario that would have been unthinkable not long ago. The Garda and British police have effectively wiped out the group’s long-standing structure in Britain and Ireland.
This has resulted in financial pressures that have forced the Kinahans into cutting back. The cartel has stopped or reduced the retainers being paid to its men in Ireland, including those in prison.
The Garda is waiting for news from the DPP of charges against the Kinahan leadership – its founder, Christy Kinahan, and his sons, Daniel and Christopher jnr. US law enforcement continues to offer rewards of up to $5 million (€4.6 million) for information leading to their conviction.
But rather than packing up its tent in Britain and Ireland, the cartel has changed its business model. In doing so, it has proven itself an agile operation trying to keep pace with a constantly shifting landscape. Rather than sending multimillion drug shipments to Ireland and Britain to be received and distributed through the underworld by their representatives – as they did for years via Kavanagh and Byrne – the cartel has developed a franchise system.
At one level, the gang has effectively put in place groups of men willing to do the job Byrne’s gang previously did in Ireland. These new groups have taken receipt of drugs, on a consignment-by-consignment basis, and distributed them to drugs gangs around the State.
A second strand of the franchise model puts even more distance between the Kinahans and the on-the-ground drugs business in Ireland. The cartel is now offering gangs access to its contacts, drug smuggling routes and transport options. It means those gangs can source large consignments of drugs, usually cocaine, for smuggling into the Republic.
It is all done in a way that ensures those gangs cannot simply poach the Kinahans’ contacts. In exchange, the cartel gets a share of the spoils from each drugs shipment, thus ensuring it continues to own a portion of the Irish market.
In reinventing itself in this way, the cartel is demonstrating the resilience pointed out by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last year. However, Garda officers are now increasingly confident that the DPP will recommend charges in Ireland, most likely against their key target, Daniel Kinahan.
That raises the prospect that the Garda may be about to strike a direct blow against at least one of the Kinahans. That would test the cartel’s resilience – creating an existential crisis – in a way we have not previously seen.