Young criminals step up the violence
Seven of the 15 unsolved drugs-related murders over the past 25 months occurred or originated in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) West. This division stretches across the north-west suburban estates of Dublin from Mulhuddart to Ballyfermot.
This was the same territory which was the stomping grounds of the major Dublin crime and drugs gangs which were behind a similar spate of murders in the mid-1990s prior to the murder of Veronica Guerin.
In the aftermath of the journalist's murder the State moved major resources against the organised criminals and the killings came to a stop. The big gangs of the mid-1990s are gone, with most of the leading figures serving long prison sentences or dead from the feuds prior to 1997.
The raft of anti-crime legislation brought in after Ms Guerin's death has driven major organised criminals out of the State. There are virtually no serious criminals living in this State who have not been touched either by straightforward criminal prosecution or by seizure of their assets by the Criminal Assets Bureau.
What has been left, according to detectives working in the west of the city, is an underworld of minor criminals, many in their early 20s or younger. They have been fighting each other to replace the big fish caught in the Garda trawl that followed Ms Guerin's murder.
Typical of these murders was that of Pascal Boland who was shot dead outside his home in Mulhuddart in January last year by two rival drug dealers. Boland had been building a drugs trade in the housing estates of north-west Dublin on territory the rivals had previously controlled with a good measure of violence and threats.
Boland's murder remains officially unsolved, but the detectives of DMR West identified his killers and have since systematically broken down their operation, seizing their guns and drugs and bringing serious charges against almost all the gang members. This has not, however, deterred other criminals in the area from moving in to carry on the drugs trafficking.
One of the criminals who built a considerable trade in heroin and other drugs in the Finglas area, Joseph Foran, was shot dead just over two weeks ago as he sat in his car outside his home. Gardai suspect local IRA people organised his assassination because of complaints from families whose members had become addicted to heroin supplied by Foran.
In the southern part of the DMR West division, there has been a spate of violence emanating from the Ballyfermot area.
One of the characteristics of the gang violence in Ballyfermot is the youth of those involved.
Three of those killed by Ballyfermot gangs were aged 17, 19 and 20. These youths were couriers from gang leaders who are still only in their mid-20s. The young gangsters responsible for the killings are before the courts on other serious charges and at least one is expected to appear eventually on murder charges.
One of these young gangsters, aged 26, began building a heroin trafficking business in the Ronanstown and Gallanstown areas from his late teens and now has offshore assets including property in Portugal. He was responsible for last year's disappearance of Patrick "Whacker" Lawlor, one of his lieutenants who had been responsible for a heroin cache seized by gardai in late 1998. It is believed Lawlor, who was 17, was kidnapped, beaten to death and buried in farmland to the west of the city.
There is strong evidence to link another young gangster in his mid-20s to the murders of the two young men whose bodies were taken from the Grand Canal after the new year. This gangster, who comes from a criminal family in Ballyfermot, also had a highly lucrative heroin trade.
Detectives working in DMRs West and South, where there are two unsolved drugs-related murders, have remarked on common characteristics of their local drugs scenes: that there are younger people involved both as dealers and addicts and the threat of prison does not appear to be a deterrent.
One officer in Dublin South said officers had recently had to deal with a 16-year-old who badly injured two elderly women as he snatched their handbags and who was stealing cars on a daily basis. The youth remains at large because there is no mechanism to remove him to a place of care and restraint. He is "high every day" on cocaine which appears to be contributing to his serious and worsening criminal behaviour.
In DMR South Central last week, officers arrested two heroin addicts, aged 15 and 17, in the city centre after they had mugged another youth in a toilet. The same young addicts are believed responsible for a number of "needle" muggings where people are threatened with blood-filled syringes. Again there is no mechanism for incarcerating them despite the fact they pose an increasing threat.
Officers who have dealt with such cases say there appears to be a trend of drugs being supplied by young men to even younger customers. There seems to be a ready supply of drugs into the city, with cocaine appearing in greatly increased amounts.
The increase in the supply of cocaine reflects a change in the global drugs trade resulting from a decline in the use of the drug in the United States. This has led South American manufacturers to target the European market. In the past two years there has been a huge increase in the amount of the drug coming into the State which has been seized by gardai.
Cocaine is sold in Dublin in £40 deals. Heroin is much cheaper, at between £7 and £10 a deal, which is usually sufficient for the daily intake of a new addict. An adult with an advanced heroin addiction would require four or five times this amount.
The drugs are being fed into the national market from figures in Britain and on the continent, including several former criminal figures from Dublin who moved their operations off-shore once the CAB and anti-legislation began to bite in 1997.
In the past two to three years Irish criminals have established bases in Manchester, Liverpool and London with the intention of continuing the trade in drugs into Ireland. A number of criminals specialising in cannabis and ecstasy tend to be based in Holland and the south of Spain.
There is also evidence of increased cross-Border trade. In the past three weeks a major southern drug dealer and brothel owner was arrested in Belfast with several hundred thousand pounds worth of ecstasy. RUC sources pointed out that southern criminals with large quantities of drugs on their hands are being tempted north by the strength of sterling against the pound. There is between £2 and £3 on the price of an ecstasy tablet between Dublin and Belfast.
There are also indications of cross-political activity between former paramilitaries who have moved into the drugs trade. According to sources in Co Armagh the figures behind the murder of the loyalist figure, Richard Jameson, in Portadown in January had close links to southern-based criminals. The links between the "dissident" loyalists who killed Jameson and the southerners range from drugs to stolen cars and car parts.
The southerners involved may also have links to dissidents on the republican side, the sources say. Both Garda and RUC sources say they expect these cross-Border links to develop as former paramilitaries on both sides are attracted to the potentially huge profits from drugs.