The Irish Times view on extortion in Dublin: hidden in plain sight
Effective action can be taken against serious criminals once intelligence about them is received
The Garda Criminal Assets Bureau has performed a valuable public service in exposing the workings of insidious extortion which is believed to be widespread. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
The confiscation of almost €300,000 from two Dublin criminals last week was accompanied by worrying revelations about extortion in the city. Derek O’Driscoll (46) and David Reilly (36), both originally from Ballyfermot, received more than €550,000 over two years from construction contractors working on social housing projects for Dublin City Council.
The Criminal Assets Bureau (Cab) told the High Court the construction sites in Cherry Orchard, Ballyfermot, were beset with attacks in 2016. In one instance, a worker had to flee from a digger when he was petrol-bombed as he was working on it. When the victimised companies agreed to pay O’Driscoll and Reilly fees for “fence maintenance” – a euphemism for protection money – the attacks stopped. The High Court was also told that two Dublin City Council officials recommended to the extorted companies that they pay the two men in order for the violence to end.
Dublin City Council released a statement saying it had never paid protection money. However, it did not address the roles, as set out in Cab’s evidence, of two of its officials. In common with the contractors, it is possible they were in fear of O’Driscoll and Reilly and almost certainly believed they had no option to ensure the attacks would stop and construction could continue. The council has promised an inquiry as has Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. And the Garda is carrying out further investigations.
However, what happened is already known as a result of Cab’s detective work and the bureau has performed a valuable public service in exposing the workings of insidious extortion which is believed to be widespread. It is now up to the Government, Garda, local authorities, the construction industry and other bodies representing businesses that are vulnerable to being targeted, to devise a uniform response to extortion.
So fearful were some of the companies in Cherry Orchard that they did not give formal statements to the Garda. Against that background, a flexible and nuanced reporting system is required. It could take complaints of criminality from victims who feel able to come forward on a formal basis. But it should also be able to receive confidential intelligence anonymously from victims who are too fearful to make a formal complaint. Listening to victims and handling information supplied by them discreetly is crucial in responding to a crime like extortion.
As the Cab inquiry shows, even in the absence of formal statements of complaint, effective action can be taken against serious criminals once intelligence about them is received. Additional successful cases would create confidence that extortion can and will be tackled if it is reported. Turning a blind eye and leaving companies to pay threatening gangland criminals protection money is not acceptable.