A MASSIVE drug debt, estimated at up to €50m, owed by Ireland's leading drugs syndicate to the Colombian cocaine cartels prompted last week's €7.9m robbery at the Bank of Ireland in Dublin and is fuelling the latest wave of gangland killings in the city, it has emerged.
The Dublin gang behind the shipment which was intercepted by the Naval Service off the west coast last November is said to be desperate to raise the huge bill amid suspicions that the Colombians and major drugs gangs in Britain are threatening retribution.
The 1.9 tonnes of cocaine had a street value estimated at €675m and was the biggest ever haul of the drug here.
Gardai believe the gang intended to ship on a substantial amount of it to gangs in Britain who may have also put up substantial sums of money, putting further pressure on the Irish gang.
As a result of the seizure, the gangs had to turn to the high-risk "tiger" kidnap robberies, the first on December 23 last, when the family of a director of a security firm was held and €1.2m taken, followed by the Bank of Ireland job. It also prompted a attempted kidnap and robbery in Galway last month.
Gardai now believe that the gang is so desperate they may carry out further robberies in an effort to raise the missing cash.
Since the seizure the gang has been putting pressure on its dealer network here in Ireland and anyone falling into debt is being threatened, beaten or shot.
The cash crisis for the gang has escalated levels of violence in Dublin and sparked the feuding which has led to seven gangland deaths this year.
The gang itself has been trying to expand into other gangs' "turf" in the city and this has led to the round of killings which started in January with the murders of Michael 'Roly' Cronin and James Moloney as they sat in a car in Summerhill in the north inner city on January 6.
This was followed by the murder of Stephen O'Halloran, 20, in Tallaght, and of Graham Nally, 35, in Finglas within 24 hours on January 19-20. Richard Keogh, 30, was then shot in Benalmadena in Spain on January 24. On February 9 last, Michael Hendrick, 36, was murdered in Clondalkin, and three days later one of Dublin's big drug dealers, John Carroll, was shot dead as he sat in a public house in the south inner city.
Hitman Michael Murray, 41, was shot dead last Tuesday in Finglas.
The murder of 28-year-old Stephen Gunn, whose body was found near the airport in January, is not thought to be connected with the feuding. It is believed he was stabbed to death after a row at a party.
It is the worst ever spate of gang killings in Dublin and gardai do not expect it to stop. Sources said that despite the fact that the major gang in the city has a clear advantage over other gangs, their opponents are heavily armed also and several have made it clear they are not prepared to step down and allow their territories to be taken over.
The violence is most intense in Finglas, but the murder of Johnny 'Champagne' Carroll has brought the conflict into the south inner city, where some of the most vicious independent gangs live and operate.
The major gang has also been employing former republicans to manufacture bombs to kill and intimidate opponents. In the past month one was planted under a car belonging to one of the major drug families in the south city. This family has a long-established history of violence and has had no challenge to its authority in years. Gardai were surprised at the attack and expect retaliation.
Further down the chain, terrible pressure is being exerted on street dealers to pay debts and many are being beaten and shot. Since late last year the level of suicides among young people at a low level in the drugs trade has surged as many become unable to bear the violence.