First fatal shooting in Drogheda feud follows at least 70 local incidents

Escalation of violence in Co Louth drugs turf war mirrors that in Limerick 10 years ago

Tuesday’s murder of Keith Branigan in Clogherhead has resulted in a palpable fear of more attacks. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

Tuesday’s murder of Keith Branigan in Clogherhead has resulted in a palpable fear of more attacks. Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson

 

The first murder in the 13-month feud between drugs gangs based in Drogheda, Co Louth, was regarded as inevitable by gardaí working in the region.

Indeed, sources said it was extremely fortunate there had been no fatalities before Tuesday, given the frequency and scale of the violence.

The dispute began in July 2018 when a man was shot and wounded in Drogheda. He survived his injuries but was left paralysed after the attempted murder on Cement Road.

In February one of his very close associates was shot in the neck while sitting in a car in a retail park in the town; again surviving but suffering life-changing injuries. Two months later, in April, another man was wounded outside a house a Hardman’s Gardens; again suffering gunshot wounds.

There have been other attacks where firearms were not used but where the risk to life was extreme. One victim was beaten in a savage assault and some people were forced to flee after their houses were petrol bombed while they home.

It is to that litany of violence, waged between rival drug dealing factions, the murder of Keith Branigan is added.

One of the suspects for directing the violence on one side of the feud is suspected of involvement in three drug-related murders that predate the Drogheda dispute.

That criminal has relocated to the Co Louth area after a period away from the region. His presence there is seen a worrying development in an already entrenched pattern of violence that has involved over 70 feud-related incidents that gardaí know about.

All the while the gangs involved have continued to deal drugs and extort drug users and small time dealers who owe them money. The dynamic of the feud, which has at times involved shootings and tit for tat petrol bombings on the same day, mirrors that of the Limerick feud which came to an end about a decade ago.

The violence in both disputes began as drugs turf wars before escalating immediately to a personalised grudge between factions with access to firearms.

It is little wonder then that Tuesday’s murder of Branigan in Clogherhead has resulted in a palpable fear of more attacks.

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster called for the main suspects in the feud, in her constituency, to be put under 24-hour surveillance because of the local concern about what lay ahead.

“People in Drogheda are of the belief this ‘feud’ is nowhere near over and won’t be until the instigators are arrested and charged,” she said.

“Frustration has set in with local people are these culprits appear to act without fear of being caught.”

Labour Cllr Michelle Hall echoed those concerns, saying the feud “has ramped up now”.

“There were attempted murders in the past and now we have a murder.”

She added while there had been a notable Garda presence in the town for the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann two weeks ago, the sense of safety those resources brought had not lasted.

“The extra gardaí have now gone back to their respective stations and now there has been another shooting,” she said.

Fianna Fáil TD Declan Breathnach expressed concern, shared widely in the locality, that members of the public could be caught in the crossfire of future attacks.

“As the summer comes to an end many people are taking advantage of the good weather and visiting the seaside village this reckless and mindless shooting could have resulted in the death of any number of innocent bystanders,” he said.