Gilligan will have influence only if he has lots of money and if he doesn't start throwing his weight around
GARDAI plan to launch a major operation targeting gang boss John Gilligan and his associates in a bid to prevent him rebuilding his criminal empire.
The diminutive godfather, who gardai believe ordered the murder of Veronica Guerin, walked free from prison yesterday morning after spending 17 years behind bars for drug trafficking.
Gilligan (61) emerged from the Portlaoise Prison and got into a car containing two men, including his brother Thomas, which drove him back to a house in Dublin where a handful of well-wishers waited to greet him with a party to mark his liberty.
But the Irish Independent has learnt that senior gardai are already preparing a specifically codenamed operation to monitor the gangster as he re-settles into freedom.
"It will be vital that he is not allowed to rebuild his criminal organisation and that means he will be under ongoing intensive scrutiny," a security source said.
It is understood that despite cutbacks in resources, gardai from a number of different specialist units will take part in the operation against Gilligan.
This will include drawing up a detailed list of all of his associates who will also be targeted.
While inside, Gilligan continued to control a significant cocaine smuggling operation and intelligence sources revealed that he plans to join forces with a number of known drug traffickers in west Dublin.
He also enjoys close links with members of the INLA and the IRA whom he hopes will provide him with protection from younger, more dangerous criminals.
"Gilligan will have influence only if he has lots of money and also if he doesn't start trying to throw his weight around. But his notoriety and the added attentions of the gardai will not make him too popular," the source added.
"While he is attempting to rebuild his operation he will be vulnerable to attack from other criminals and also to being caught by the gardai. The public have not heard the last of John Gilligan."
At the same time the Criminal Assets Bureau will continue its efforts to track down the IR£15m Gilligan once claimed to have moved offshore prior to his arrest in 1996.
It is accepted by CAB sources that apart from the seizure of his equestrian centre and various houses, they did not succeed in tracing his cash pile.
Much of his drug money was invested in various businesses and properties, including a pub called the Judge's Chambers in the Alicante region of Spain.
Drug-trafficker and police agent Liam Judge, the former partner of Gilligan's daughter Tracy, had been looking after his drug trade and investments.
Gilligan has been in jail since October 1996 when he was caught by UK Customs officers with IR£296,000 hidden in a suitcase as he boarded a plane for Amsterdam in London's Heathrow airport.
He was subsequently jailed for 28 years, reduced to 20 on appeal, for drug-trafficking, but was acquitted of Ms Guerin's murder.
He emerged from Portlaoise Prison shortly after 9.30am, where a large group of media had gathered. Dressed in a grey shirt and dark trousers, he looked towards photographers before looking up at the sky.
He carried a black suit jacket, paper bag and pressed shirt wrapped in a dry cleaning bag.
Gilligan sat into a 08 registered grey Ford Mondeo. He appeared to be talking on a mobile phone as he travelled in the back of the car out the main gate where he grinned as he passed the waiting media.
He was taken to the home of his brother Thomas in Clondalkin where he was greeted warmly by family members and friends before he went inside where a party was being held.
Throughout the day, friends and other family members, including women and children, came to the house.
Speaking outside the house, Gilligan repeatedly denied he ordered the murder of Ms Guerin.
He also denied he threatened to rape her son.
Gilligan claimed he was "hiding from no one".
Asked what his plans were, he said: "Going back into the house to have another beer."
His release came a day after he lodged a fresh action in the High Court over the legality of the sale of his prized Jessbrook estate in Co Kildare, which was put on the market a month ago for €500,000.
It is not known if Gilligan plans to return to a home attached to 50 acres of land around the equestrian centre, where his estranged wife Geraldine still lives, stay with his son Darren on the outskirts of Dublin, or live elsewhere.
Last week he issued a letter through his solicitors insisting he would not speak to the media – even if all the newspapers and broadcasters paid him €1m.
Asked about Gilligan's release from jail yesterday, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said he wanted to reassure the public that the gardai were fully committed to dealing with organising crime in all its facets.
He said he did not want to comment on the release or on whether officers would monitor Gilligan's movements as that was an operational matter.
But he added: "Our job is to prevent crimes and where crimes occur, to investigate, arrest and prosecute offenders and that is what we are committed to doing."
He pointed out that several specialist units were heavily involved in the fight against organised crime and noted that CAB played a key role in seizing assets from criminals.
By Paul Williams, Sam Griffin, Tom Brady and Eoghan MacConnell