It might seem unfair to attach too much weight to the Taoiseach’s assertion in the Dáil that he could not stop the killings in the Kinahan-Hutch feud, before clarifying – when challenged – that he was referring to his personal capacity to respond. He also committed to providing resources to the Garda to enable it to act. To be clear, no one expects Mr Kenny to take on the role of crime fighter. But they do expect his Government to provide a convincing response.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Taoiseach would have chosen his words more precisely and that the Government would be reacting more robustly if the killings were linked to an area other than the north inner city. It has been starved of State support over decades and is the geographical equivalent of a second-class citizen.
Admittedly, no single response will end this cycle of killings. And evidence collection takes time. But the fear that the Kinahans may target up to 10 more people associated with the Hutch family merely underlines the need for a reaction that draws on the resources of all relevant arms of the State as well as international police and law agencies. In the first instance, more effective prevention and protection are required. The Garda cannot be everywhere but its extensive presence in the inner city needs to reach saturation point. In this regard, the Army could be used to participate in Garda checkpoints in its established role as an aid to the civil power. Such a highly visible move – modelled on the response to the Provisional IRA – would boost public confidence, supplement Garda resources and send a strong signal of intent.
The State has previously met the challenge of organised crime with the Garda, Revenue, Criminal Assets Bureau, the use of informants and the enactment of new legislation. But past protagonists were largely Irish-based. This feud is different. The Kinahan gang's proxies are recruited locally, their actions sometimes involving bravado as much as planning. As a result, some are certain to be brought to justice. But those who give the orders are detached – operating from bases in Spain or beyond – and the killings will not cease unless they believe it is in their interests to call a halt.
The reference by Assistant Garda Commissioner Jack Nolan to an "international dimension to the investigation" may be a key pointer. This feud is personal. But it is also about power and money and an end could depend on a cross-border response that successfully targets – or sufficiently threatens – money and assets.
Against this backdrop, some may dismiss as a distraction the controversy over the O’Higgins report and suggested contradictions in the approach of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan to whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe which she addressed again yesterday. But that misses the point. It would be preferable if Ms O’Sullivan were not embroiled in politics or if doubts had not arisen about her attitude to Sgt McCabe. However, these killings underline the critical role of the Garda, the challenge it faces and the requirement that it is properly resourced and reformed. The commissioner is essential to the latter and, as such, her actions are rightly scrutinised.