Will the last person to politicise the recent gangland murders please turn off the lights? And will the last person to use the murderous activity of gangsters in Dublin to pursue their own agenda please close the door after them? No one could have foreseen crime becoming an election issue, especially the sort of crime that locks itself away in Marbella and whose figureheads have nicknames and fill Sunday papers with their escapades. But events, my dear boy, events.
The shooting at the Regency Hotel followed up by the retaliatory murder of Eddie Hutch in the north inner city of Dublin would have been cut from Love/Hate spec scripts given how outrageous it is. Within the parameters of an election campaign, these events have taken on a new meaning. That meaning is now not about how the drug trade lends itself to such lethal crime, nor our nation's inability to tackle this seedy and violent criminal underworld. The new meaning is how this situation can best serve political point-scoring and agenda-driving. Like the drug trade itself, multiple conflicting parties want a piece of the action.
First up is the Taoiseach. Enda Kenny's tactic of trying to pin some kind of blame on Gerry Adams because of the type of weapons used in the Regency Hotel murder was perhaps the biggest reach anyone could make, "I'm interested to hear the media comment that the AK47s may well be very similar, if not of the same cargo, that came in from abroad with the Provisional IRA a number of years ago," Mr Kenny said. What on earth is that supposed to mean? If it was reported in the media that the men who shot up the Regency Hotel had porridge for breakfast that morning, presumably Mr Kenny might also draw some conclusions, "I'm interested to hear the media comment that these men ate porridge the morning of this atrocity," Mr Kenny might say, "and just this morning Mr Adams tweeted he was soaking a pot of Flahavan's. Coincidence? I think not."
Next in line, the Garda Representative Association (GRA) is certainly not going to let things pass without pursuing their own agenda. The president of the body, Dermot O'Brien, wants the gardaí's Uzi and MP7 machine guns back, and said so on RTE's Morning Ireland, "The MP7 would be better for protection and accuracy." Perhaps Gardaí actually being at the weigh-in at the Regency Hotel where the first murder occurred (which was so under the radar that four INM journalists were there) in the first place would also have been "better for protection." I'm not sure how the reasoning that gardaí having bigger guns would deter criminals from shooting one and other works, but it sounds eerily similar to the type of logic used by cheerleaders for guns in the States: school shootings wouldn't happen if the teachers carried guns. I doubt an assassin heading out to kill someone is put off by what type of gun a garda has at their disposal somewhere else in the city.
The justice minister Frances Fitzgerald also has a role here. When Frances Fitzgerald says that the State "will take all actions necessary" to bring the perpetrators of the recent gangland killings to justice "and to make absolutely sure that you are not beyond the rule of law" what does that actually mean? Fine Gael want to appear "tough on crime" but saying you're "tough on crime" doesn't actually mean anything. Drug dealers and gangsters are clearly beyond the rule of law in Ireland, and criminals known to be involved in international drug trafficking operate with impunity, more often infringed upon by each other, rather than the Irish State. The Minister for Justice used her statement to remind us that the second Special Criminal Court will open in April. Sinn Féin's policy of getting rid of the Special Criminal Court is terrible timing, but it's not like Sinn Féin are the only ones to want that. UN committees have repeatedly questioned the Special Criminal Court's jurisdiction and potential abolition. The Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) issued a statement this week saying they "noted with regret that the weekend's appalling attack at the Regency Hotel in Dublin was now being used by some electioneering politicians to buttress their claims that Ireland still needs an emergency court."
For their part, Sinn Féin’s part in this political tug of war is about playing to populism while deflecting criticisms. They’re calling for resources, something that pleases the gardaí and the public. They say they will recruit 3,000 gardaí and reopen 140 Garda stations.
Even the so-called Continuity IRA wanted to use the situation to their advantage. A man claiming to speak on behalf of the Continuity IRA rang the BBC and claimed responsibility for the killing of David Byrne at the Regency. "Continuity IRA units have been authorised to carry out further operations. More drug dealers and criminals will be targeted," he said, radiating pomposity, "The Continuity IRA will carry out further military operations." An Garda Síochána has thrown a bit of an "in your dreams" glance in their direction. It might be that the only military operations the Continuity IRA is involved in at the moment centre around playing Call Of Duty, but they are desperate to maintain relevance in post-Troubles Ireland.
Local election candidates are trying to claim some space too. Mannix Flynn dramatically described Dublin as a "city under siege where a great evil is amongst us." Speaking to The Guardian, the Dublin councillor firstly blamed the media for glamourising criminal gangs, and then said "the Dublin middle classes are to blame, especially those who snort their cocaine in their nightclubs, their golf clubs, their rugby clubs or at home among their friends. They are bigger consumers of drugs than the working class and the real ones fuelling the wealth of these career criminals, enriching these gangs." His words echoed former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, who famously called out the middle classes for having blood on their hands when it comes to gangland crime saying, "If you do a line of cocaine in Foxrock you are personally responsible for the murder of somebody, say, in Coolock or Clondalkin or wherever." Mr Flynn is of course running as an independent candidate in Dublin Bay South at the moment.
Even the Catholic Church is trying to assert themselves. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin appealed to the mothers and grandmothers of gang members, but said that he wouldn't act as a mediator between gangs. Not that the gangs asked him. That request came from the Labour Party who are probably engaging in a bit of wishful thinking if they reckon men who are willing to murder and maim can be talked down by a clergy member.
But none of this matters, does it? Anything that comes into view during an election campaign automatically takes the shape of a football before the eyes of a politician and the kicking and tackling unfolds with pointless impunity. What no one is talking about is the drug trade itself, and how the illegality of drugs is what causes all of this. That’s too complicated though, and there are few points to be scored in having a discussion with a longterm view when a vote is only around the corner.