Next generation of gang leaders following well-worn path

Drugs trade moving out of recession as new younger gangs flex muscle

One feature of Irish organised crime over almost two decades has been the significant influence that a very small number of gang leaders has exerted on geographic areas, and on the Irish drugs trade generally.

Dubliner Eamon Dunne assumed control of the Finglas-based gang when its leader Marlo Hyland was killed by his own gang in 2006. Between that date and Dunne's own murder less than four years later, 11 people were killed under Dunne's orders.

The killing spree caused such instability in the Dublin underworld that the Kinahan gang decided to murder Dunne in a bid to restore calm. And when he was shot dead at a party in a Cabra pub in April 2010, by gunmen hired by the Kinahan cartel, the fatal shootings in Finglas and surrounding areas instantly stopped.

Similarly, when Limerick gang leader Wayne Dundon was jailed for the 2009 murder of State witness Roy Collins the Limerick feud was ended.


The war that his McCarthy-Dundon gang had waged on the Keane-Collopy gang lasted for a decade, with at least 13 lives lost. But it ended immediately once Dundon was taken out of circulation, such was his influence driving on the violence.

Other past gang leaders may be less well known, but they waged campaigns of violence so extreme that when they died or were killed the oppressive shadow they cast over their communities was lifted.

They include: killer Karl Breen from Clondalkin (died from a drugs overdose in 2015); Westies gang leaders Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg in Blanchardstown (shot dead in Spain and buried in concrete in 2004); Mark Desmond, a serial gangland murderer and rapist from Ballyfermot (shot dead in 2016, resulting in more relief than grief).

The maturing of all of these men saw them dominate their own particular corner of Irish organised crime and kill and maim along the way.

Since about 2001, the one group that has presided over all of them has been the Kinahan cartel. It supplied Irish gangs with narcotics from its Spanish base for 15 years before decamping to Dubai for its own safety in 2016 when its feud with the Hutch faction exploded.

And during that time it has reached into Irish gangland, attacking some of its key figures and supporting others, in a bid to ensure the right people flourished in the old country, people that had Kinahan interests at heart.

Kinahan cartel

Initially Freddy Thompson was installed as the leader of a Crumlin-based crime gang that looked after Kinahan interests in Ireland. That gang was, in effect, the Irish unit of the international Kinahan cartel.

Thompson had been the leader of one of the gangs involved in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud for almost a decade from the year 2000. It resulted in the other group being wiped out and up to 15 lives lost in gun attacks.

When Thompson came under pressure from the paramilitary Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in Dublin around 2008 he was forced to flee abroad for periods. As a result, the leadership of the Kinahan's Irish operation passed to Thompson's cousin, Liam Byrne.

With the support of the biggest drugs supply ever into the Republic, and the wealth and muscle that came with it, Thompson and then Byrne were gangland’s leaders in Ireland.

The Kinahan cartel continues to operate from Dubai, its leadership having passed from founder Christy Kinahan to his sons and heirs, Daniel and Christopher.

But back home, since the Kinahan-Hutch feud erupted, the Kinahan operation in Dublin has been under extreme pressure.

Thompson has been jailed for life for one of the 18 feud murders to date and other key gang members also languish in jail. Liam Byrne, whose home and other assets have been confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau, has fled to Birmingham. Other men around them have also left Dublin.

The Kinahans’ Dublin lieutenants are neither gone from Irish gangland, nor forgotten as they still wield power from locations in Britain and from their prison cells. But as the successful policing of the Kinahan-Hutch feud has knocked the Kinahan princes off their perches in the Irish capital, challengers have become emboldened. And they are eyeing an increasingly lucrative drugs scene, with more money flowing in as recreational drug users’ disposable incomes increase in a recovering economy.

A large group of men in their very early 20s have begun feuding over the past 12 months in Finglas and Corduff; the territories once ruled by Eamon Dunne and the Westies' Shane Coates and Stephen Sugg. And a new wave of young criminals has also stepped forward in Drogheda, Co Louth since last summer to challenge the dominant gang there, resulting in a bitter feud.

It is that generational shift in parts of Dublin and Louth that Assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy spoke of this week; warning young men that with a gangland scene in flux, even minor involvement carries with it the risk of being shot dead.

Policing crisis

As the past has shown, even two or three new violent gang leaders emerging at the same time has the capacity to create a national policing crisis and oppress entire communities.

Leahy, Dublin's most senior Garda officer, was speaking in the days after two 22-year-old friends and minor drug dealers from north Dublin, Sean Little and Jordan Davis, were shot dead.

Little, like his friend Zack Parker (23) in January, was gunned down on the orders of one of the new men who would be king in Dublin; a Finglas drug dealer in his mid 20s.

Like Eamon Dunne before him, that man now leads a violent and armed local gang which has cornered the local drugs trade. As was the case with Dunne, he has now begun to kill people over minor debts or because he fears they are about to attack him. He is also attracting Garda and media attention and it was that which resulted in the murders of Dunne and Marlo Hyland by their own associates as they had become liabilities.

The young new wave of gang leaders is just emerging but their stories are already taking a depressingly familiar shape.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times