Finglas feud Q&A: Who is involved and why is it erupting now?

Escalation in feud between two rival drug-dealing gangs after arson attacks

There were three arson attacks at the weekend in Finglas, what’s going on?

Yes, on Saturday just before 2.30am a family home was firebombed on Barnamore Crescent and that night, after 11pm, another house was attacked on the Casement area of Finglas. News has since emerged of a third incident in the Virginia area of Finglas. In the first incident, in the early hours, the house attacked is owned by the mother of James Whelan who was shot dead in Finglas in April. Gardaí believe that attack was a deliberate targeting of the Whelans by the same gang that murdered the father-of-one last month. Then the second arson attack, late on Saturday night, and the third one appear to have been revenge for the Whelan house being attacked. So it was three attacks in less than 24 hours, linked to an ongoing feud.

What is this feud all about?

There are two rival drug-dealing factions involved, both based in the Finglas suburb in north Dublin. Previously, the two factions were all part of the same gang. However, that group split into two rival groups. Last year there were a series of tit for tat incidents and in early February that escalated when members of one gang stole an expensive watch from a member of the rival faction. Photographs of the watch were sent around messaging apps and social media – by the gang linked to James Whelan – in a bid to taunt the other group. A number of other beatings took place and in one incident a man was abducted off the street and bundled into a car by men armed with hammers. There have also been a series of drive-by shootings at houses and petrol bombings. All of this activity escalated from early February, leading to the first murder in the feud; that of Whelan in April. In total, about 70 incidents have so far been linked to the feud.

Who was James Whelan?

He was well known to gardaí for involvement in the drugs trade in the Finglas area from the time he was a teenager. When he was still in his teens, gardaí seized almost €30,000 in cash from him. At that time, though he was still a young man, he had over 50 convictions, including for selling drugs. At the time of his murder last month Whelan was a leading figure in the faction that effectively broke away from the main drugs gang in Finglas. The leader of that main group is in his mid to late 20s and has been dubbed Mr Flashy, and the gang he leads is dubbed 'The Gucci Gang'. Those names don't come from gardaí or the criminal fraternity but are purely a media construct. They were given those monikers because of the displays of wealth they try to project; expensive clothing, jewellery, cars, motorbikes and so on. Effectively the feud is between the Whelan group on one side and the 'Gucci Gang' led by 'Mr Flashy' on the other. On the first weekend of April there were a number of tit-for-tat shootings on houses in Finglas linked to the feud. Gardaí believe Whelan went into the Deanstown estate – his rivals' base – in the early hours of Sunday, April 3rd, for the purposes of carrying out an arson attack. However, he was spotted in the area and chased through the estate before being shot dead there.

So his murder changed everything?

More or less. To that point, while an entrenched pattern of attacks and reprisals had become established, nobody had been killed. But as with many of the feuds were have seen over the past 20 years – especially those involving young criminals – once someone is shot dead the ante is upped. The attack on Whelan’s mother’s house in the early hours of last Saturday morning gutted the property and also badly damaged two vehicles parked outside. That incident in itself, because a grieving mother was targeted, was always likely to lead to reprisals. The fact another two houses – occupied by people with no involvement in crime – were targeted by James Whelan’s associates late that same night really underlines how out of control the feud already is. Even in the aftermath of one attack – and with Garda activity stepped up locally – other incidents are planned and executed.

You mention young people being involved, why?

One of the features of this feud is that the more established criminals on each side are in their mid to late 20s. But there are also a lot of younger men, and boys, aligned to each side. And when feuding breaks out among two groups populated by a lot of young people, the attacks are often very reckless. Getting revenge becomes the primary goal rather than any strategic thinking; any consideration about how escalating violence will bring increased Garda attention, thus undermining a drugs dealing enterprise, for example. People familiar with both groups involved say the two gangs recruited a lot of teenage boys in the last couple of years, to deal drugs, collect money and carry out attacks like petrol bombings. They have also been taunting and threatening each other via social media.

Is this all a new-wave of feuding after the Kinahan era?

Well, the Kinahan cartel are not out of business so it's a bit early to be talking about them in the past tense. But the Irish part of the cartel – known as the 'Byrne organised crime group' – has been effectively dismantled by the Garda since the Kinahan-Hutch feud began nearly seven years ago. And because of that, the Kinahans have scaled back their business in Ireland. When 'Flashy' was the leader of a large unified gang in Finglas – before the Whelan faction split away from it – the gang was supplied with drugs by the Kinahans. That meant 'Flashy' had a certain amount of kudos or respect in the eyes of the gang members he led and it also created fear around him. However, when the Kinahans scaled back their operation in Ireland, and stopped supplying the gang in Finglas, the power dynamic in that gang changed. It all became more unstable and the group split into the two factions now feuding. So on one level you could say it's fall-out from the Garda investigations into the Kinahan cartel's Irish unit.

What’s going to happen next?

In all likelihood, this feud is going to continue and more people are going to be killed. Given the age profile of the people involved in the Finglas dispute, the fact they have access to money from drug dealing and to guns, and also the sheer numbers of people aligned to each side, this could get much worse. The gardaí have carried out searches, seized drugs and cash and Dublin City Council has taken possession of a number of houses used as bases by the gangs. However, recent events suggest this is going to be violent and protracted.