Gang feud puts Drogheda estate ‘on lockdown’
Tensions rising in Louth town over drugs turf war or gangs settling old scores
A Garda car is seen patrolling in the Moneymore estate in Drogheda, Co Louth. Photograph: James Forde
Halloween is a time when children call upon the homes of neighbours to trick-or-treat. This year the few who did so in the Moneymore estate in Drogheda, Co Louth, were met by front doors that remained shut.
“I found that awful sad,” said a local as he walked his dog yesterday. People in Moneymore do not answer their doors at night any more due to rising tensions in the town between two rival gangs fighting over drugs territory or settling old scores.
No one in Moneymore gives their name when talking to the reporters who have visited the estate in recent days. Nor are they talking to local gardaí. “I’ll tell you what I told the bangharda up here the other day: ‘I’ve nothing to say.’ And she was very nice. She understood.”
Before leaving, he offers directions to the nearby house where last Sunday armed gardaí rescued a man who had been kidnapped. He was found in the bath with stab wounds.
Other houses in Moneymore have been boarded up following petrol bombings. Graffiti calling one group “rats” adorns a building at the edge of the estate. There had been a lot more graffiti but that was cleaned up in the past few days, locals say.
This round of violence traces its origins back to the shooting of local criminal Owen Maguire (23) on Cement Road in the town last July. Maguire was hit six times but survived. His associates blamed another local gang, which placed Moneymore at the centre of the feud.
Moneymore is “on lockdown”, says Labour councillor Pio Smith. Local events have been cancelled, even Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Few walk on the streets. Gardaí armed with automatic weapons carry out hourly patrols.
“The effect on the community is devastating,” Smith says. “It’s the worst it’s ever been.” For ages, Moneymore has been plagued by sporadic attacks by both sides. In the past fortnight, however, the situation worsened.
Maguire’s gang drafted in “back-up” from Manchester, according to local gardaí. Smith heard that 100-700 men had flown over. The figures are obviously exaggerated, he says, but they illustrate the fear in the community.
So far there have been about 10 serious incidents, including hatchet attacks and petrol and pipe-bomb attacks on houses. Last Tuesday night a petrol bomb was thrown at the front of a house in Riverbank.
Members of the Travelling community, according to a number of sources, dominate one side of the feud, meaning settled Travellers who have nothing to do with it are experiencing the backlash.
Yesterday two Travellers sold goods door to door, or tried to. “They had come up to me and I said, ‘I’m okay’. I nearly wanted to ask them ‘What are you doing, will you get out of here?’ ” one resident said.
“Next thing, I walk around the corner and there were two lads kicking the f***ing s***e out of them,” said the man, who, like others, left his home for Halloween with his family, fearing petrol-bomb attacks.
He points to a house farther up the road. “There’s a chap living up there. He won’t stay the night. He goes to stay with his sons when it gets dark. And he’s a hard f***ing man. He’s one of the hardest men around. People are terrified.”
Sinn Féin councillor Kenneth Flood was in Moneymore on Sunday night shortly after a bomb attack on a house. Armed gardaí were everywhere. Unbeknown to him and the residents, the officers were there to rescue the man who had been kidnapped.
“People thought there were more pipe bombs in the area. They were afraid for their lives and afraid for their kids. They were afraid to go to bed,” the man says.
The presence of press and local politicians irritates locals. Neither are seen in other times, they complain bitterly: “F*** off out of here and stop printing lies,” one young man shouts at us.
“They’re really good people in that estate,” says Pio Smith. “Remember, one of the highest Leaving Cert results in the country ever were got by a boy in Moneymore. He got the JP McManus Scholarship Award. You don’t see that reported.”
The violence, although vicious, has not taken residents by surprise. They could feel it simmering below the surface. “For weeks people kept saying: it’s going to be tonight, someone’s going to be shot tonight,” one man says.
For Smith it’s the result of a consistent lack of State spending and the consequences of deprivation. There is no shortage of gardaí at the moment, at least. All garda leave in the area has been cancelled this week and extra manpower brought in from elsewhere.
But in September, shortly after the Maguire shooting, Garda overtime was cut to the bone. The key to fighting these feuds is stopping them before they start, says Smith, who also works as a drugs counsellor.
For that to happen, there must be community gardaí on the ground day in, day out, giving them the time and the support to win the trust of the community, he declares.
Drogheda’s community policing unit is made up of “young, enthusiastic guards who are eager to make a difference,” Smith said. “But I think they feel they’re fighting a war with two hands tied behind their back.”
However, a Garda spokesman says this crisis cannot be blamed on a lack of overtime. “It was always coming to a head. The resources are there to manage it at the moment. We’ll go from there.”