Monk pays price of success as Garda pressure increases

 

IN A central Dublin pub in recent weeks, a man known never to drink more than a shandy suddenly began turning to real drink. He downed a couple of shorts, and then another, before turning on an associate and starting a shouting match.

The Monk earned his name from his non smoking, non drinking reputation. But word is that the non drinking bit is at risk.

Some observers believe the increasing pressure from media revelations and Garda surveillance is taking its toll on the 33 year old Dublin criminal. Not only that but it has been a bad year for the State's most successful armed robber.

Several associates have been shot dead in intermittent feuding between Dublin gangs. Some had been included on a list of alleged drug dealers circulated by a vigilante group with republican links.

The Monk's name is not on the list, but he is said to fear that some people are trying to link him to the drugs trade in the hope that he will be killed, too.

The man now known as the Monk grew up in a large family in north inner Dublin. In his early teens, like many of his contemporaries, he became involved in petty theft. But he was never thought of as a future serious operator.

An older brother, who has a number of criminal convictions, gained a reputation for armed robbery, while the Monk was known to be reserved and quiet. Although he was convicted of several petty crimes and served some time in prison, he has not been in jail for about 15 years.

Armed bank robberies which yielded several thousand pounds at a time got the Monk started in serious crime. But it was not until 1987 that he staged the raid which made him rich.

On an evening in January of that year a Securicor van pulled up outside a bank in Marino. It had been collecting cash at banks in the city throughout the day and this was the second last stop.

As the van was preparing to move, a red BMW stolen in Donnybrook the previous day pulled up alongside. Three armed and masked men jumped out and forced the two Securicor men in the front of the van to leave their cab.

The van and car were driven off towards waste ground nearby, with a third Securicor employee ejected along the way.

On the waste ground they started emptying bags of cash from the van. Each had about £25,000 in used notes, and there were so many that in the rush some had to be left behind.

That evening the firm admitted that about £1.5 million was gone. Gardai said they had no idea such a large sum was being transported, and speculated that the gang was surprised as well.

A three way split of the proceeds would have given each gang member a £1/2 million, enough for a good life if you knew what to do with it. But early efforts to launder the money went awry and some is believed to have been lost.

Nonetheless, the Monk was on his way, and in the nine years since the Marino robbery he has also learned to hide his cash. He has been lucky, too both his associates on the Marino raid have since been shot dead.

OTHER members of the Monk's family have stayed in the area in which they grew up, and in some cases in the same corporation houses. But the Monk has moved away. He now lives in an £80,000 house in Clontarf.

The house, in a small, relatively new development, is by no means luxurious. Unlike Martin Cahill, "The General", who preceded him as the country's most infamous criminal, the Monk has never tried to be flamboyant.

The nearest he has come to a stunt was trying to get his photograph taken at a function with a TD, but the TD moved away and the opportunity was missed.

The Monk is married with five children, who now take the DART to private, fee paying schools in the city where they mix with the offspring of more conventional parents. Last year he bought a house in Howth worth about twice the value of his Clontarf home.

Neighbours who learned the identity of the purchaser began to lobby their local representatives and gardai to have something done about it, but it came to nothing as the Monk never moved in. He is thought to have bought the house simply as an investment.

The Monk is usually given credit for organising a £2.7 million robbery at an AIB cash holding centre in Waterford in 1992. He is believed to have pulled off the £2.8 million raid on a Brink's Allied depot in Dublin in January of last year.

These were sophisticated operations, involving weeks of planning before gangs of armed men struck at a time which would yield the greatest result. The proceeds from just those two raids and the more amateur Marino robbery amount to £7 million.

The Monk is described as ruthless, particularly in disputes with other criminals. He is suspected of several murders, although he may have carried out only one himself - the killing of a man called Mel Cox shortly after the Marino robbery, after he and Cox had become involved in a fight in a pub.

In October 1994 Patrick Shanahan, a builder who had been investing in apartment schemes in the city, was shot dead. He was known to be an associate of the Monk and may have been helping with his investments.

But it was the killing of Gerry Lee earlier this month which suggested that Dublin's gangland murders were taking a new turn. Lee, shot dead at his 31st birthday party at a house in Coolock, had known the Monk for years and is believed to have been involved in the Marino robbery.

The other participant in the 1987 raid, Patrick McDonald, was shot dead in 1992.

Lee had become involved in the drugs trade, a business that the Monk has not wanted linked to his name. In recent years he has managed to avoid the "drug baron" reputation.

But some people trying to analyse his wealth and counting his apartments and pubs find it hard to resist the conclusion that, while he is not engaged directly in running drug dealing, he has helped finance some of the major trafficking into the city.

The profits to be made from running a hands off drugs business are many multiples of the original investment, and the trade is far less dangerous for its organisers than raiding banks.

The Monk is said to have invested about £500,000 in the Urlingford drugs haul, and to have concentrated on helping people to import cannabis and ecstasy. But this cannot be proved.

MEANWHILE, rumours of a photograph showing him with a major heroin dealer known as "The Boxer" and another well known north Dublin drugs figure are being dismissed as evidence of very little by people who claim to know about the Monk. The three men enjoy big boxing and soccer events, and are said to be simply "friends", rather than associates.

When Cahill was shot in 1994 it was said that crime in Dublin would become more disparate, with various gangs running their own areas. But while figures such as "The Penguin" - a Ballyfermot drug dealer - have gained a certain notoriety, the Monk has risen quickly to the top of the pile.

The expensive heavy surveillance of Cahill by gardai yielded relatively small results: most convictions were for minor offences.

The Monk has not been under the same pressure, partly because governments have hoped that asset seizures might be the best way to deal with drug barons and other criminals. If they could not be caught red handed, they might at least be left empty handed.

In this context the Minister for Finance, Mr Quinn, was asked in the Dail last month how much money had been levied by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of people with "unlawful or unknown" income.

After explaining Revenue procedures, the Minister finally said that between 1984 and 1995 seven cases had been investigated, raising about £1 million in tax.

At first glance this might suggest that an average of £140,000 was raised from seven shady characters. But the Minister made it clear that the Revenue could not know if any of the income taxed was from drug trafficking.

Indeed, each case could have been income from undeclared investments such as shares overseas, which might have no criminal source.

On Thursday the independent Dublin TD, Tony Gregory, said there was a lack of effort in pursuing drug barons for their money. "Quite understandably the people in Revenue and Social Welfare are afraid," he said. Both Departments would deny this.

In addition the Minister of State for Finance, Hugh Coveney, this week denied a report that the Monk's tax file or papers from it had gone missing.

Mr Gregory advocates setting up a special unit in which anonymous officials could investigate criminals from every angle without fear of being identified to their targets.

The Monk retains a support base in Dublin because he is believed to be solely an armed robber, albeit a very successful one. One suspicion among those who know him is that by linking him to the drug trade the Monk is being "set up" by people who are frustrated that he has not been brought to justice.

A well known figure in Dublin has been privately challenging reporters to prove that the Monk is involved in drugs: he has yet to say it publicly. But a senior Garda said yesterday that the force's assessment of the Monk tallies with that person's remarks.

"We would not accept that he's involved in that type of activity," he said.

Meanwhile the Monk has risen beyond the level of local hoodlum to Cahill's successor as a symbol of the seeming impotence of the State's law and order apparatus in the face of organised crime.

It may be that in the Cahill era the public - or at least the media - became used to the idea of one figure who could be identified as chief gangster. If the Monk's luck finally runs out, someone else will take his place.